Never Trust the Silence IV
This is the fourth page of a continuing story. It's time to hear from another point of view, so let us set the scene in Atlanta. The narrator goes by several names, but remember, Dibri is an ugly name. Brunei is the name people use when they want to pretend she is part of the tribe (You'll find out which tribe). She doesn't use the name her parents gave her, and her real name is Anotnia. She is a complex person with a complex history. Life is never simple, and in any time or place, you have to be suspicious of the sounds you don't hear and the secrets you don't see. Never trust silence!
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Shlomo-Yitzakh vanished the first night he came to my house for Reunion. I did not notice he was gone at first because I had a battle royal with Chevie. She and Kayla wanted to use the bucket of bolts so they could look at interior decorating sites to get ideas for fixing up their bedroom and they also wanted to order a bed spread since Chevie has a card and cash money to burn. This would have been a good opportunity to explain about exchange rates between Tasmanian and United States currencies, but I never got that far. Chevie like Kayla did not have her basics, but I managed to humiliate her by testing her, and she was willing to take a risk and come up short. She was not prepared for my slamming the gate on her.
"I'm not Ed-Branch!" the child wailed.
"A computer is NOT a toy. It's a tool," I put myself in teaching mode.
"You just want to lord it over us kids," Chevie never missed a beat.
"I'm in charge," I confirmed Chevie's worst suspicions, but that did not stop the argument. It went on for half and hour or so, and only Yitzie stopped it. He stood in the study doorway wanting me to tuck him into bed and read him a story. I bowed out. Chevie and Kayla went off to make practice bath bombs in the bathroom as a kind of revenge, but I did not know that yet, and at that point, I did not care.
I was so glad to get away from the argument that I did not notice that Shlomo-Yitzakh's bed was untouched and he was nowhere in the bedroom he shared with his younger brother. I put Yitzi to bed, turned out the light, and left the door part-way open. In the study, Quil and Moses had unfolded a spare table and were studying together sielntly. Moses did math problems, and Quil read a book on "Applied Ethics." Quil had a lot of books like that. They were part of his rehabilitation, and he liked to read. That made him a good influence. Besides, Moses wanted to see Corliss and stay over night right after Shabbos. He was trying to get a lot of studying done in advance so he could have time for that.
Ellen was writing letters on the computer. Ahava sat in the bean bag chair reading a Chumash for Shabbos. It was a peaceful scene, except there was no sign of....I decided to see if he had gone to get a snack. He had not eaten much supper. Orphia and Akiba were guessing at what the children liked to eat. I found Akiba kneeding bread in the kitchen and Orphia taking inventory and the anime music playing softly and...no Shlomo-Yitzakh.
I checked the living room. It was dark. I checked the children's bathroom and heard Chevie and Kayla's laughter resnoate over the tiles. A large plastic bucket was full of white goop made from baking soda and other ingredients. The bath bombs were unflavored and would be dull, but these were just for practice. Chevie wanted to go buy bath bomb scent and color on Friday or early next week. Meanwhile, she and Kayla could work on the technique.
I went out in the yard. I could feel the worry creeping under my skin. I came back inside and carefully slipped into Yitzi and Shlomo-Yitzakh's bedroom. I opened dresser drawers and checked the closet. Shlomo-Yitzakh did not have a lot of clothes but they were still there, and his toiletries were shadows on top of the dresser. He had not run away, but where had he gone?
Part of me all ready knew the answer. Part of me told myself that it was perfectly legal for Shlomo-Yitzakh to visit his parents, and there wasn't a thing I could do about it. He was in clan foster care due to parental estrangement, NOT excessive physical discipline or even neglect. He was not under an order of protection. His visitation did not have to be supervised.
That I trusted Shimon Weisman even less than I trusted a thirteen year old boy's judgement of what was safe went without saying. I did not relish the walk or ride to the Oakes and pounding on the Weisman's door late at night and demanding to know if Shlomo-Yitzakh was visiting. I was not sure what I'd do next if I found him.
I walked down Christmas toward LaVista. The lights in the Kollel still burned. That meant there were probably young and even old men learning religious material, which they did whenever they felt like it. I crossed the road. I told myself that Shlomo-Yitzakh probably did not know his parents' address at the Oakes. They had moved there long after they cut him off in Israel.
I walked through the parking lot, down the stairs, and up to the Kollel's entrance. The glass door was locked. I could see the white shirted backs of seven or eight gentlemen, most of whom sat in pairs. A middle aged man got up and blinked at me. He opened the door a crack and asked what I wanted. I said: "Is a Shlomo-Yitzakh Duggim here?" The man shook his clean shaven face which had several razor cuts on the pink, stubbly chin.
"You may know him as Shmuel Weisman," I kept up the pressure. I knew that women could come in the Kollel, even if this man wanted to not let me in. "I'm his foster mother," I retold a story I was sure he all ready knew. The man blinked. He nodded and let me in. He had on a black, suede kippah. Once inside, I could see Shlomo-Yitzakh bowed over several large tomes in Hebrew script. A plump youth close to his own age and in a sweaty, white, dress shirt had blocked my view. Shlomo-Yitzakh stood up sheepishly. "I'm not sure women can come in here," he told me. I said women could come in any time. I then asked if he would mind taking a break. I asked him as in giving him an order.
We stepped into one of the glass-walled group study rooms. "Am I in trouble?" Shlomo-Yitzakh asked me. "Not yet," I told him. "I'd like to know when you plan to return home."
"When do you want me back?"
"It's not a school night so I really don't care. I would have liked if you told me before you just ran off. I thought you had gone looking for your parents."
"Do you know where they are?"
"Yes. I can give you their address, but if you want to visit, I'm going with you. You know what happened to Quil."
"He fell off the derech."
"Given what happened to him, I can understand."
Shlomo-Yitzakh stared at the floor. "One is supposed to honor one's parents," the boy told me.
"One is not supposed to put onself in danger. You saw your brother's nose tonight. He is lucky he doesn't have more scars. I don't want that happening to you."
"Quil brought that on himself," spat Shlomo-Yitzakh.
"And what did you bring on yourself?" Two could play at this game.
"I acted out of conscience."
"Don't we all," I sighed.
"You would have done worse."
"I all ready have. Still it's my job to see you're safe. Kids your age tend to believe they are immortal."
"Are you calling me young and stupid?"
"No, I'm saying you have a blind spot. You also love and miss your parents. Will you let me supervise at least the first few visits?"
"What if they won't see me with you?"
"We find another adult then."
"A rabbi or a buchur who is over eighteen."
"OK..." sighed Shlomo-Yitzakh.
"There are probably men here who know where to find your Abba during the day. Promise me that you will let me know you are going with them to see your Abba. Insist on stopping by the house. Leave a message with Orphia or Akiba or Ki if I'm not home. They'll get word to me. Do you promise?"
I did not flinch at the name. "Now what time would you like to come back?"
"When do you want me home?"
"You pick the time. You're on vacation remember?"
Shlomo-Yitzakh smiled, a wry smile. Like his older sister, he had armor, but wore it differently.
"I don't know..." the boy sighed.
"Pick a time."
"Is two o'clock OK?"
"Sure, do you have a watch?"
Shlomo-Yitzakh shook his head. I could see his pale face starting to color. I took off my wrist watch and handed it to him. "I expect you to bring this back at two in the morning."
"Are you going to wait up for me?" Shlomo-Yitzakh's eyes met mine. They were a peculiar shade of light, golden brown. They could be very handsome eyes.
"I might. If I don't, you can hang the watch on my bedroom door. It's down at the end of the hall, across from yours and Yitzi's room, and be quiet when you come in. Your little brother is asleep."
"I'll be very quiet, Dibri."
"OK, see you at two or in the morning at breakfast if I fall asleep."
"Yes, Dibri," Shlomo-Yitzakh rose. He held my watch as if it were a lighted match and then slipped out the glass door ahead of me and scooted over to his table as if I would change my mind. I walked out of the kollel my mind blank and fuzzy. I hadn't been called Dibri in a while, and the name had a sting from disuse. I told myself it would take a few days for Shlomo-Yitzakh to come out of his time warp and catch up. He had been far more isolated in eight months than Ahava had been in five years.
I came home to find Ahava in the kitchen drinking tea. She had a book on the table. She said Ellen was sleeping. Akiba's bread was on its second rise, the pans wrapped in bio-plastic bags. I checked the back hallway. It was quiet. The girls making bath bombs had taken them back to their bedroom to dry. The bathroom sink and counter were covered with caked, white material. I was in no mood to clean it. I'd deal with it when it began to inconvenience the other siblings. I gently closed the bathroom door. "Do we have any red hibiscus tea?" Ahava asked me when I returned to the kitchen.
"Orphia can put it on the shopping list," I told my oldest foster. Out in the living room, Akiba watched cartoons jacked in to her earbuds and Orphia wrote a letter using a lap desk. The late night house was quiet. In a few hours, though it would erupt again.
Laid Down by the Law
I awoke at six-thirty to the strains of an argument down the hall. The voices were female. I slipped out of bed. My wristwatch hung on the door knob. Yitzi stood in the hallway listening to the argument. Chevie and Kayla's door was shut tight, as was Quil and Moses'.
"Look I don't want my sister shitcanned, OK?" said a voice that sounded like Ahava's.
"Would you do the same for me?" asked Ellen.
"I'm your sister too you know."
"Yes, but Kayla is my sister by blood."
"You mean like blood sisters." I winced remembering the game of two girls pricking their fingers and touching the wounds together to share blood and create a bond. There were also germ sisters done with two girls pressing their tongues together. I had had both blood and germ sisters as a girl.
"I mean family, related...I'm sorry, because you're a really a good friend."
"I'm also your sister."
"Ellen, where were you born?"
"General hospital Barrow...but it doesn't matter! Don't you understand we are sisters."
"We are foster sisters by the laws of DeKalb County and the Scholars Union."
"NO SISTERS! Look Ahava, you can be more than one thing at one time. Can't you understand that. I am Tricia. I am Ellen. I am your friend. I am your sister."
"I think I get what you're saying. I am your mentor. I am your sister. I am your friend, and you don't believe in metaphors."
"I believe in metaphors, it's just that white people use them as a way to ignore reality. They say something is just in your mind when it is real."
"Wow," I thought. With a good vocabulary you can understand and explain anything. I wanted to laugh, but something made the laughter hurt. Maybe I was thinking of Chevie. I cornered her at breakfast. Quil and Moses ate rusks and either butter or honey (Neither had any use for prune butter) at a corner of the table. They were talking about their plans for the day that included a study session then some time roaming the neighborhood or going back to the Interior. I tried not to listen. Chevie and Kayla barreled into the kitchen freshly dressed and glancing about. Neither complained about breakfast and took their rusks and put lots of sprea don them. Kayla also helped herself to a nectarine and offered one to Chevie. Chevie said she liked apples. "I keep forgetting it's autumn here," she announced.
"Chevie before we start eating, we need to talk," I waited for Chevie to pick up on what was about to happen. She stepped out into the living room with me. "Am I in trouble?" she asked. The child knew the drill.
"Not yet," I replied.
"Then what do you want?" Chevie rocked insolently on her feet, her hazel eyes sizing me up.
I let the suspense thicken. "It's about the bathroom last night, right?" Chevie wanted this over with. I did not care.
"What about the bathroom?" I asked. I was starting to enjoy this. "It's perfectly clean in there."
"Yeah, someone cleaned it," Chevie answered.
"Ahava cleaned it," I replied "You owe her one, understand?"
"Yeah, is that all?"
"Nope, I want you to read the parsha this week so you can discuss it in religious education class. I'm teaching a nonbiased, literary, Torah study class at Beth Jacob Village."
"EXPLETIVE DELETED that!" Chevie all but screamed. She screamed it loud enough to make Moses poke his head out the kitchen door.
"Yeah Alfred, EXPLETIVE DELETED that!" Chevie repeated, but Moses knew the curse word and so did I.
"Chevie, why don't you want to read the Parsha?" I tried to steer the conversation back to stable ground.
"Because I'm not Jewish."
"What do you mean by that?"
"I don't believe in religion."
"Because it's bullshit. Every one preaches love and morals and then they treat kids like shit."
"Chevie, you don't have to believe anything to read the Parsha. Can you pretend it's an English exercise?"
"I'm not going to schul!"
"Chevie, would you go as a favor to me."
"It's not fair," the child answered. "You scholars get freedom of religion. If I say I don't believe, you can't make me go. You wouldn't if I was Ed-Branch like you are. Well we Creators are the same way. Yeah there were kids who went to church in Hobart, and a couple of Jewish adults who used to make challah, but nobody made me go if I didn't want to. They said if you need it you go. If you don't believe it's your business, understand?"
I understood. It hurt me. Even with all my Moses had been through, he still believed. It was a link to an older world. It was something separate in case the system failed him, but the religion had all ready failed Chevie. She could of course change in time, but if nobody was going to push it.....
I reentered the kitchen. My water for yerba matte was boiling and Ahava and Ellen were eating breakfast. I noticed that though Ahava was dressed, Ellen still wore one of Moses' old polo shirts which was too big for her, and that she had also slept in. It probably was less dirty than the old t-shirt. I wondered if I could ask what became of the old t-shirt. I decided to give it a try.
"It's dirty and it's torn at the shoulder," Ellen explained. "It probably won't survive another washing," Ahava added.
"Well I guess you have to get some clothes then," I told Ellen. I could not conceal the triumph in my voice. "It only has to be two or three shirts."
"It needs to be a lot more," Ahava undermined me.
I glanced at Ellen waiting to see her balk, but she sat there calmnly munching her rusk and prune butter. "I'm taking Shlomo-Yitzakh to the mall today. You are welcome to come with me." The argument was over before it had begun. That felt wrong.
Meanwhile, I set my yerba matte aside to cool and trudged down to the study. Moses and Quil had stationed themselves at their table. Quil was again reading his Applied Ethics book. "Quil," I begain. "Can we talk?"
Quil stepped out in the hall. "I don't want to see my parents," he began. I tried to read his face. I really could not see either fear or anger. He had a right to refuse visitation. I might have done the same in his case. "I don't want to take Yitzi there either. I don't think it's safe." There, it was all out. I hadn't asked Quil to babysit for Ytizi. That was my job or my crew's job and we had to be invited to the Oakes or at least somewhat welcomed there. That hadn't happened yet. I pushed it aside. I had more pressing concerns. Quil was eleven and not yet bar mitzvah age. He was therefore a candidate for m religious education class and needed to read the parsha.
I asked Quil to take some time to read the prasha. Quil gave me a weird kind of smile and then shook his head. "I'm off the derech," he explained. He was not going to resort to curse words. That did not make me feel relieved.
"It's just reading like your applied ethics," I explained.
"Not it isn't. It's all about how Moses is so great and how the Jewish people in the desert were a bunch of assholes," Quil responded. "Do you really believe that?"
"Not that part," I said. "I believe Moses was getting ready to die, and he was old and burnt out and did not have the patience he needed to be a leader any more."
Quil gulped. "You want me to go to schul don't you, even if I don't believe any more."
"Even if the whole thing is corrupt from top to bottom, and rabbis can get away with beating kids and nobody says anything...
"It took those idol-worshipping priests to say something. They worshipped Mithras, the Golden Calf, but they saw I'd been hurt and they asked why and when I told them, they understood. No rabbis did that, Ms. Mandel. That's why I don't believe any more."
I did not have an answer to this. "Read your applied ethics," I told Quil. "You're a good influence on Moses," I added.
"Thanks Ms. Mandel," Quil told me before slipping back into the study.
By the time I returned to the kitchen, Shlomo-Yitzakh was all ready awake. He was telling Yitzi about the kollel where the "big boys" went to "learn." I was glad Quil was in the study. The last thing I wanted for some reason was a fight between two brothers.
"You don't need a special study hall to learn in," Ahava tried to puncture Shlomo-Yitzakh's sails.
"It's good though because you don't have to learn silently," Shlomo-Yitzakh tossed the bait back to his sister.
Ellen just shook her head.
I decided I did not mind a little theological argument of the milder sort. I was sorry to interrupt it. "Shlomo-Yitzakh, we need to get you some clothes," I brought my second oldest foster child back to earth.
"It's eruv shabbos," Shlomo-Yitzakh countered me.
"Shabbos does not start until nearly eight pm. It's nine am now. We have plenty of time to get you some things."
"I don't want things!" Shlomo-Yitzakh was not Ellen. "In Israel we wear our uniforms."
"What about a sport coat or a blazer for schul?" I asked.
I'd caught Shlomo-Yitzakh and caught him hard. "OK, but...You girls," he addressed Ahava, Orphia, Akiba, and me, and probably also Kayla "All want to put on your plumage like peacocks and show off your feathers. One of the litwak rabbis in the 1700's said that women shouldn't come to schul because all they do is show off their clothes. It's not that bad, but even Ahava, when Ed-Branch started buying herself, it was all bright and loud."
"I liked pretty patterned blouses. Remember that black and white thing I wore to death when I was ten?" Ahava waded into an old and well loved argument. "It's just me. I look good in colors and I'm not afraid to wear them."
"Amen!" Akiba backed up the oldest of the foster children.
"Well that's NOT ME!" Shlomo-Yitzakh answered emphatically.
"That's why you get to pick out your own jacket and ties," I threw back the argument and realized this was the first dispute all morning that I had won in a way that was not pyrrhic.
Shlomo-Yitzakh blinked. "If you like your clothes, you'll feel good in them. It's like a second skin," I explained. Shlomo-Yitzkh didn't quite believe me, I was sure. He did agree to go to the mall. He really couldn't refuse. Instead, he changed the topic. "How come you were asleep when I got home?"
"I was tired," I took a sip of my yerba matte.
"Didn't you worry about me?"
"Not once I knew where you were."
"Don't you care about me?" Yitzi watched Shlomo-Yitzakh. Both boys knew the script.
"I new you were in a study hall a few blocks from the house, and I felt you were trustworthy enough to come home without getting in trouble. Do you want me not to trust you?"
"You're not my Imma," Shlomo-Yitzakh announced.
"Yes, she is," replied Ellen.
"No she's not. She didn't give birth to me," Shlomo-Yitzakh put the young Inuit in her place.
I smiled. "Don't you believe you can be more than one thing at once?" Ellen lowered the boom.
"You're asking if I can have two mothers?" Shlomo-Yitakh used the English word deliberately.
"Why can't you have two mothers? Why can't you have more than one self?"
"Because that's hot the way the reality works."
"That's just because you have a language like that," Ellen said.
"What do you mean?" Shlomo-Yitzakh asked.
"Well if you believe you can only be one thing at a time, you have words to make sure everything is one thing. Instead of just having mother, you have foster mother, step mother, blood relative, germ sister. If you use those words, of course you can only be one thing at a time, but in Inupiat it's different. We just have mother. If someone treats you like a mother, she is your mother. The woman who gave birth to you is also mother. Understand?"
Shlomo-Yitzakh gave Ellen the last word. I felt relieved. Then I wondered when Ellen would start calling me "Imma" or "Mom" and how I would feel when it happened.
"And Don't Pee in the Shower..."
I managed to herd everyone except my crew, Quil, and Moses to the New Mall without incident. Yitzi and Kayla were good and patient walkers. Chevie did not complain. I was sure Moses and Quil would go elsewhere when Moses finished studying. I did not inquire where they would go. Moses knew to leave word. We all had to be back in the early evening to get ready for Shabbos before sundown.
When we got to the New Mall, Chevie exploded. She did not exactly explode. Instead she announced as inncently as you please: "Kayla and I are buying bedspreads and decorations for our room today."
I had nothing against letting Chevie and Kayla walk to a store in the mall and do this, but neither of them shopped here that often, though Kayla may have been here once or twice. She used an older New Mall in the 600 block of Ponce in In Town, Atlanta. Chevie's mall experience was all on the other side of the world. In other words, the statement was a demand. I had other plans. Shlomo-Yitzakh really did need a blazer and a watch, and probably another pair of shoes, and a tie. He was not used to shopping. Very few thirteen year old boys are. Moses, my son, was an exception, but only because Bee and I had trained him.
I watched Shlomo-Yitzakh's eyes light up as Chevie made her move. I tried not to look at him. No doubt he had seen the mess Chevie and Kayla had left in the bathroom last night. They were in bed by the time he arrived home.
I ignored Chevie and Kayla. "Let me take care of Ahava and Ellen first," I said. Ahava was going to take Ellen clothes shopping. We needed a place to meet, synchronized watches, etc... I went through the dull details and watched the two girls walk away.
Then I addressed Chevie. By now I had a pretty good idea what she planned to do. This was a game of sorts. OK, I could play along. I might even have enjoyed it if I did not have other things to do. "Chevie," I began. "What store are you going to?"
"One that sells Indian bed spreads."
"American Indian or from the subContinent?" I told you this could be fun.
"Indian from India or Pakistan." Chevie left out Bengaladesh.
"And do you know what kind of a store sells those bedspreads?" This was too easy.
"No but I'm going to ask?"
"Are you going to ask me?"
"No, I'm going to ask at the Info Centre."
"And do you know where the Info Centre is" beecause I was not going to take she and Kayla there? I had other plans.
"I can look it up on a map. It's probably near a food court." I had not expected this response.
"OK, and how are you going to find a food court?" I had Chevie at long last. I waited for her to realize she had crashed herself into my wall again. How many times was she going to do this? Was she now going to make a scene? Had that worked elsewhere? Did it work in Tasmania?
"We're going to walk. The malls all have a similar floor plan."
Shlomo-Yitzakh shook his head. Yitzi smiled. He enjoyed seeing his cocky, older sisters get in trouble. They weren't in trouble yet. I glanced at my watch. I was going to give this drama fifteen minutes to play itself out. We had the time. Maybe Chevie would only get angry at herself.
"OK, why don't you find a food court. Would you mind if the rest of us tagged along?"
"Are you afraid I'll get lost?"
"But you're not afraid of getting lost."
"I've been here a lot," I replied.
"The malls are all built the same way," Chevie replied, and we set off. Chevie passed through several junctions. She passed the escalator to the subway level and turned right down a passage. She said that in Tasmania, one would have turned left, but in the United States everything goes clockwise.
The passage into which Chevie turned was wide. That meant it was a main passage, just one I was not used to taking. I glanced at the stores. There was one selling a large selection of scrub outfits such as working women in the interior wore, another selling electronics and featuring repair people at benches behind a glass window. There was a store selling various kinds of roast seeds and grains based treats. Multicolored bunting decorated our level. We had passed a barrier and were now in the interior. I could sense that much. So too could Yitzi who looked around nervously. "This isn't good," Shlomo-Yitzakh said aloud. "Do you know where we are?"
"We're in a major corridor that probably leads to a food court," I answered. About six stores later, the corridor opened up into a round balcony with stairs and escalators leading down two levels to a food court with some familiar and some not-so-familiar vendors. We weren't really in the Interior. American business, not cheesey copies of it, had colonized this area. A large board showed the conversion of mall chits to cash value, and food stands that took mall chits had yellow cardboard circles hanging from their signs. Those that took cash money had green dollar bill shaped cardboard decorations. The majority of the stands had both. There was no information booth, but in the center (Chevie uses the Tasmanian spelling.) of the court was a large mall map. It covered eight stories and a lot of territory and had arrows showing that the mall continued on beyond what the map showed.
"Kayla, I need a stool," Chevie told us. "Why not a chair?" I thought. Then I saw the chairs were bolted to the tables, in an old American style. Further into the interior, the chairs were of the regular type and could be moved or even wielded as weapons, but where was the mythical stool. It was wrong for Chevie to be defeated by simply not being tall enough to be able to study a map comfortably. I realized now I wanted to give Chevie all the rope she would take and see her hang herself. It would happen. She was only nine.
"They keep the stools under the map stand," Chevie explained to Kayla. She squatted down and pulled one out. She climbed up. She glanced at the map. "We're going to have to go up four stories to reach the Info Centre. It's not far once we get upstairs." "Stop weedling, Chevie," I thought. "Where are the up escalators?" I inquired. Now I expected an answer, and it might even be a good one.
"We'll start with the stairs here and then pick up the escalator three floors up. The stairs only go three floors up." I asked Chevie to show me on a map. I also asked her to write it down on a notepad she carried in her backpack. She did all that, and we were off again. It went without saying that we were in a part of the mall that I had not seen before. Three floors up and a left turn away from the main passageway, everything was rosie quartz or fake rosie quartz that almost glowed translucently except for the floor that was tanslucent, grayish white quartz. Shlomo-Yitzakh looked uneasy. Kayla was impressed. "What if we get lost?" asked Yitzi. "We aren't going to get lost," I told him. "I wrote down the directions, and we're going to retrace our steps."
I was not prepared for the food court with the info center. Interior malls for me are a way to get to the subway, to get to the Wounded Crane Center, so I can teach. This food court was clearly the design of some Interior architect. For one thing there was no food, just a design made in assorted quartz, a kind of round mosaic of leaves and flowers. The court was a series of archways, each shrouded in bright pink, glass beads. The Info Center was a huge white, black and rose veined marble desk set on a black marble dais in the middle of this huge circle.
"This is a spider court," explained Chevie, who was utterly confident. I did not like this place. I reminded myself that Yitzi was too young to be taken, Shlomo-Yitzakh was placed, Chevie was as good as placed. Only Kayla had something to really fear, and I knew what there was to fear. Knowing was always an advantage.
"The food is down the passageways. They have all kinds. This is bigger than Brinjins. People eat in the passageways or at the tables. You can push them together. There are also steps where people can sit and eat over on the opposite side." Thank you for the lecture, Chevie. Had she seen one of these courts before.
"You only have to worry about a place like this if it's busy. Also if you go down one of the places that doesn't serve food. In those halls there is entertainment that does takings. They don't have to do much. We are three or four barriers away from Fifty Stars, which is our world. That's not our name for it. This is all Fifty-Three Stars, or it's in worlds they control. All they have to do is close a barrier to take a kid, or take a kid behind a barrier and close it. You can't see any of it, but if you're an expert you can find the controls or bits of them. I don't care because I can show them my card if I get caught."
"I have a card too," answered Kayla.
I was not going to show my fear. "Well, there's your info desk," I pointed to the dais. "Go get your directions and we're going to follow you to the store. I want to make sure I know where you are and how to look for you if you don't come home."
Shlomo-Yitzakh rolled his eyes. Yitzi clung to his brother's leg. Then he got out his cell phone and told Abishag that Chevie was trying to get Kayla lost and they would disappear and never come back again. I tried not to listen. Chevie and I found a table and together we both wrote and mapped out the route to the store she wanted. "That lady asked if we wanted American Indian or Indian Indian bedspreads," Chevie laughed.
"Great minds think alike," I told my foster daughter. Then we synchronized our watches, or rather Chevie synchronized her time piece to my own, and we set out, down six levels and around two turns. I watched the mall change styles several times. The area around Chevie and Kayla's chosen store was South Asian in decor with wooden arch ways and the smell of spices in the air. There was a spice and incense mart not far from the textile and furnishings store. I noticed Shlomo-Yitzakh had Yitzi by the arm in a vice-like grip that the little boy did not seem to mind, but I minded.
"Do you know what's down here," Shlomo-Yitzakh asked as we walked away after bidding Chevie and Kayla adieu.
"Let me guess," I responded to Shlomo-Yitzakh's rhetorical question. "A Hindu temple." That would not have surprized me. It should not have fazed Shlomo-Yitzakh, but this was an easier way of dispelling fear that a trip this far into the Interior had caused. Me, I was not afraid because I had dodged a melt-down from Chevie who had won her freedom with her skills and quick thinking. I was not sure I could have done better than her at her age.
"Yeah and they take kids here," the boy told me.
"Why should you be afraid of that?" I responded. "You're placed. Yitzi's too young."
"If they take her, she'll end up back in Tasmania. C-Branch is very protective."
"And what about Kayla?"
"Same deal only better. I'll get a phone call from the Creche on Ponce and we'll just go pick her up. I hope Chevie does not wind up back in Tasmania, but she has a nurturing team there, so it's not so bad."
"You wouldn't say that if she were your daughter!"
"Pardon me, but Moses was placed by court order in a house of last resort far in the Interior this spring. We both survived."
"And you didn't care...."
"I cared. It was hard, but it was better than Moses being in jail or me going to prison. I don't know if it's better than Moses going to Choate. If he passes that exam in two weeks, and settles in well to his high school, I'll know we more or less broke even."
"And what if something goes wrong."
"I just hope enough has gone wrong all ready."
"You don't get upset."
"I try to keep my head. Life works out better that way."
"People don't work like that," Shlomo-Yitzakh told me.
"Your mother and father don't. I'm a different kind of person."
"You're telling me you're not human."
I did not reply. Shlomo-Yitzakh was going to have to see me in action a bit more. Buying a blazer for my foster son was traumatic. He wanted no plaids, even muted ones, and even after I told him that a solid match with his dark green trousers was unlikely. We settled on a tweed, one wtih lots of pockets and pleating, a really nice European cut. I made Shlomo-Yitzakh really look at himself in the three way mirror. I made him put the material against his pants to see how it picked up the green in them with little threads. The boy shook his head.
"I never had to bother with all this stuff," he sighed.
"It's time you learn," I told him.
"Women prefer a man who is well groomed and well dressed. In five or six years, you will be dating."
"I'm going to have a shidduck with my basheret," Shlomo-Yitzakh replied. Translated this meant that someone would fix Shlomo-Yitzakh up with a woman whom he would date a few times before deciding if she was a marriage candidate. This would happen a few times until he found his match, and given that he made his life in Israel, this would happen after he served in the IDF and attended University, or so he thought.
"The women still get to do the choosing," I reminded my foster son. "Ed-Branch women often go for a semi-independent male in this country. Money talks, sad to say." Hopefully with clans keeping their girls longer, there would be fewer hastey matches, but I had married at a fairly normal age. "If you want to compete, looking good helps."
"It's all so superficial," Shlomo-Yitzakh replied.
"No," I explained. "Being well dressed and clean means you are healthy and that you care enough about yourself and those around you to put a look together. It also means you have the intelligence to learn how to coordinate and outfit. Women want a healthy, handsome, well-mannered man, with a considerate personality. Dressing nicely and being well groomed tells women you're all those things."
"I can't believe this," sighed Shlomo-Yitzakh.
"What can't you believe?" I asked.
"You're talking to me about women as if you want me to...." I could see my oldest foster son start to blush.
"Should I wait until your eighteenth birthday?" I asked. "Your high school is co-ed for at least some of your classes isn't it?"
Shlomo-Yitzakh's face turned redder. "There's no harm in learning to become a decent, thoughtful, courteous partner and practicing it before you actually want to date. When you want to date, the good habits will come in handy, don't you think?"
"What will you do if Moses marries a THREE LETTER EPITHET NOT WORTHY TO BE PRINTED?" Shlomo-Yitzakh asked. Someone had taught him well. This was a way to kill any conversation about more liberal ideas about relations between men and women. They all led down the road to perdition. Everything could lead to disaster if you really thought about it that way, and it made wonderful drama to think that way.
"Whom did I marry?" I asked Shlomo-Yitzakh.
"And you never did tshuva?"
"Not really. I loved him. We fought bitterly. We got divorced. I had a lovely son. OK? Right now, my big worry is whether Moses will pass his high school entrance exam. Sound reasonable to you?"
"I forget you don't let anything upset you," Shlomo-Yitzakh let the insult fly. It bounced, but it ended the argument.
Shlomo-Yitzakh had fun buying a watch, and even got the hang of picking out ties. I knew not to foist loud paisleys or florals on him. Novelty ties were not his thing. He bought a rep tie in dark green with mint and gold stripes, and a knitted dark green tie. I showed him knitted ties and he liked them but did not notice their texture. He also wanted a plain silky tie and picked out one in white. It made a wonderful contrash with his light green, uniform shirt.
It was close to three o'clock when we arrived back at our original food court, the first one Chevie had found. Ahava and Ellen were all ready enjoying cold drinks. Two tables down sat a worried Kayla and a somewhat peeved Chevie. At their feet were two large looking bedspreads of printed, Indian cotton. The bedspreads were in clear plastic bags. Between the bedspreads was an elephant. It was probably made of resin, and had seal brown skin, a red saddle and lots of gold, green, and purple trim in the form of filigris and fake jewels. It stared at the world with large black, painted eyes with huge white irises. All and all it was a most impressive elephant.
"Avodeh Zara, complained Shlomo-Yitzakh.
"It's a night table, not an idol!" Kayla replied showing the flat top of the elephant's saddle.
"And why do you want a night table?"
"To put our stuff on," Chevie spoke up.
"But you're only going to be here ten days!"
"Kayla's not," Chevie replied. "She stays until they take her. She's too young to be placed. I can come here whenever I want. Ms. Mandel's house is home for me in Atlanta."
Shlomo-Yitzakh shook his head. "How did you get the elephant here?" I asked.
"We carried it together," Kayla explained.
"And what about the bedspreads?"
"We put them on top of the elephant," Chevie answered.
I tried to picture two small girls making the long trip with huge bundles. It was an even longer trip back to the exterior. I guessed what my job was. I offered to assist and got to carry the elephant back to the house on Christmas Lane. It was not heavy. It must have been hollow. I wondered where the factory was that mass produced these for little girls who dreamed of exotic places and the beauty of fairy tales.
"You'll have to name the elephant," I told Chevie and Kayla as I delivered the elephant to their bedroom that was to be their palace and sanctuary. They'd also have to keep their personal space clean, or would it get decorated with junk and dirty clothes? Why should I care?
"I thought it was a night table!" Shlomo-Yitzakh bellowed.
"It's also an elephant, so why not name it."
"Shlomo-Yitzakh!" Chevie called out. "That's going to be the elephant's name. I think it kind of looks a bit like Shlomo-Yitzakh, don't you think?"
I did not laugh. I had work to do. It was four pm. Some of the kids were eating. Moses and Quil were no where to be found, but that was to be expected this early. I gathered the kids in the kitchen and gave out the shower schedule. We did not have time for individual showers so the boys who were home would go first. As I said this, Quil and Moses thundered through the front door."Sorry for being late," Quil told me. Moses just shrugged.
"Does that mean all four of us have to shower together?" Shlomo-Yitzakh asked.
"I'd like everyone to shower before Shabbos. You'll like yourself better even if you don't go to schul. Quil and Moses, I've asked the boys to go first because they're faster. The girls go next, and then the adults, the help and me, go last."
"What if the boys pee in the shower?" asked Ahava.
"We pee in the shower?" asked Moses.
Shlomo-Yitzakh blushed. He stared at the floor. "Who told you that some boys do that?" Moses asked Ahava.
"Atilla," Ahava replied.
"Is he a Hun?" asked Quil.
"He's a Saprophyte," Ahava replied.
"That's an eater of the dead," Quil explained.
"That's his clan name."
"And he pees in the shower." Moses was a quick study.
"He says boys do that sometimes. Well don't do it here. We're going in after you and it's gross."
"You're speaking lashon hara," Shlomo-Yitzakh cautioned his sister.
"Peeing in the shower is gross. Ues the toilet!" Kayla took Ahava's side.
"It's not lashon hara if we have to use the shower after you," Ahava settled matters.
"I think Ahava made a reasonable request," I backed up my oldest foster daughter. "Use the toilet before you shower or get out of the shower to urinate."
"If you pee in the shower, all the women will hate you!" Yitzi told the other boys.
Yitzi truely had the last word on the subject.
We All Count!
There were not enough of us going to schul Friday night. I knew that. I knew it because Chevie and Quil, though showered and in clean clothes refused to go with us, but also because even if they had gone, it still would not have been enough. I knew it the minute we stepped into the foyer of Beth Jacob Village's main building and headed for the sanctuary. Separate seating meant that Moses and Shlomo-Yitzakh would both be on the male side of the mechitza or divider. I could still see them through the grating, but the male side was more crowded, and you know who was there. Shlomo-Yitizakh and Moses were not good friends. The friendship ran from Moses to Quil, who was at home. Shlomo-Yitzakh, unlike Moses, had been a favorite of those who were seriously religious. Moses believed as a favor to me, out of habit, and maybe in a quiet personal way. It was not part of his social life. Shlomo-Yitzakh probably also missed his father. Eight months' estrangement leave their mark, and unlike with Ahava who also had a close friend with her, that mark really had not yet had time to become a scar. Part of me was glad that Shlomo-Yitzakh insisted on still wearing his clan uniform. It did not say &qut;I am trying to fit in at any cost," but that was still small comfort.
As we began the introductory hymn in praise of Shabbos, my eyes searched the men's side. It was always so crowded, so I hoped to come up with nothing. I hoped Rabbi Fleischman, for whom Shimon Weisman worked, had his own small prayer house or shteibel. Of course I was out of luck. I found both of them. We launched into Dodi Li, a tune welcoming Shabbos that was written in the sixteenth century on the western calendar, at a time when Yeretz Israel belonged to the Ottoman Turks, and long after the Crusades. At the end of Dodi Li the men danced around the bimah, the broad lectern in the center of the men's side from which they read the Torah scrolls on Saturday morning and at weekday morning services. The men of course did not really dance. They moved in a circle in like a slow, freight train just shuffling their feet, instead of doing any kind of steps or moving their bodies. When the men danced, Kayla leaped up and grabbed Ahava and Ellen and me and we formed our own line dance. I motioned to some of the high school girls from the Yehshiva, Mikala, and the Temima School to join us, but most of them blushed. A few younger girls stepped into our group though and I forgot about the conga line at the bimah but not before I saw Shlomo-Yitzakh in it and Moses holding back. A barrier and five or six rows of males separated me from my foster son. I bit my lip and kept my feet moving in step to the dance.
The service began with kaddish, a blessing that is both for the dead and the living and then the call to prayer or borchu.. I glanced over the seats. Rabbi Fleishman sat with Shimon Weisman, Yaakov the tutor, and several other grown or nearly grown men. Moses and Shlomo-Yitzakh sat with the fat boy with whom Shlomo-Yitzakh held late night study sessions, and one or two other males their own age. I felt relieved. The rest of the service went smoothly. Even the sermon was not too awful. Sometimes sermons can make my skin crawl. I was one of the first into the lobby when services broke up. I found Shlomo-Yitzakh. I di dnot see Moses. That was fine. Moses had no interest in Rabbi Fleishman and Shimon. "Do you have a place to go tonight?" I teased Shlomo-Yitizakh. "I'm eating wtih you," he answered his face pink from exertion.
"Let's go find Moses," I suggested.
"I wanna see abba!" Yitzi cried out.
"Oh shit!" I thought. Moses came first. He was in the cloak room talking to Shlomo-Yitzakh's fat study partner. &quiot;Lots of math. I have to learn lots of math. If I don't learn my math, my Imma will not let me out and I want to see my father motzei Shabbos."
"Moses," I smiled at my son. "Can you give your poor imma an introduction?"
"This is Shlomo-Yitzakh's chavrusa, Baruch. Baruch, this is my imma, Antonia Mandel. That's what she likes to be called Mizz Mandel." "No more Dibri for me," I thought. Rehabilitation is a wonderful thing. I asked the boys if we minded going to look for Shimon Weisman. Yitzi wanted to see him. This was getting old, and it was going to get still older, but it was not going to die.
We bumped into Ahava, Ellen, and Kayla in the foyer. They were watching Orphia have a heated argument with a plump matron about how to make tomato sauce. It was funny to watch. Several of Kayla and Ahava's old school friends watched. Kids get their amusement when they can. I told Orphia to get the girls back to the house. I was going to look for Shimon Weisman.
I found him on the porch looking at the stars along with the rest of Rabbi Fleishman's entourage. They glared at me. I shoved Yitzi forward. They glared past me, eyes on Shlomo-Yitzakh. "What are you doing here?" it was Rabbi Fleischman who wielded the cudgels. He was a medium size man with a wizened beard somewhere between light brown and grey. It was a clean beard even though it reminded me of rusted, steel wool. His eyes were blue. His face sunburned and scarred by untreated acne as a teenager. He had never put on weight except for a small lump like a fibroid at his belly. He wore a brown belt that was smooth and well worn, a grey suit, and a white shirt with faint grey stripes. He skipped the tie. His kipah was white satin.
"I'm here for Reunion," Shlomo-Yitzakh answered. It was hard to tell if he bit.
"You're not coming home to us," Shimon Weisman got down to business.
"Such a sad world," I waded into the "discussion." "One son wants to visit and the other only has supervised visitation." I did not mention that Quil wanted nothing to do with Shimon. I tried to think of what had happened in Rabbi Fleischman's car that hot day in late July and my mind blanked. It blanks quite conveniently.
"That boy is going to grow up to be a dog," Rabbi Fleischman pronounced.
"You have a very dirty mind," I told the rabbi.
"It's the way you dress him. He will think he's a girl. Very confusing."
"I'm a BOY!" Yitzi interrupted the conversation. "I pee standing up!"
"Who taught you that?" I asked.
"Quil," Yitzi fearlessly mentioned his older brother's name. "He did it before the big fight."
"Don't you have dinner to prepare?" Shimon Weisman gave the conversation a nudge in what he considered the right direction.
"It's pretty much ready. I have a crew working under me."
"We know what kind of crew they are," Rabbi Fleischman admonished. "They're just your style. You may have fooled Rabbi Grossman, but you didn't fool me. I know what you are and if we could get Yitzi back without you calling the police, we would do it. The others are lost causes. In the days of the bais HaMigdash we would stone them both to death."
Shlomo-Yitzakh shook his head. He said something in Hebrew which I will translate. He called Rabbi Fleischman a liar. The law of the rebellious son only applied to a male child age eighteen who stole money from their parents and spent it on meat and wine. If they spent it on shaved ice or ice cream, they were fine. If they cussed their parents and kept their hands out of the family coffer, they were fine. If they took the money and went on a trip to Miami...well you get the idea. Informing on a bomb plot did not merit that particular death penalty. Rabbi Fleischman was wrong on a big technicality which meant he did not know his stuff, and had underestimated Shlomo-Yitzakh's intelligence. At least Shimon had not tried to lie in this manner or played his son for such a fool.
"Should I speak the truth?" asked Rabbi Fleischman still using Hebrew.
"Go for it," I snarled back in English.
"I have nothing about which to be ashamed," answered Shlomo-Yitzakh defeinding himself in his fluent Hebrew. "This is the year 5843. The command to kill the Caananites and purge the Holy Land of avodeh zarah [idol worship] applied only to one place and time. The Canaanites are a lost people. They are not the current Palestinians. Also, if the command applied forever and to all nonJews and any one who did not worship Ha'Shem exclusively than there would be massive killings in the name of God. A holy command would become an excuse for murder, a true chilul Ha'Shem [desecration of God's name].
"Besides all that," Shlomo-Yitzakh drove his point home. "You're not going to tell me that the IDF and the government of Israel are like that of the Romans or Babylonians?"
This was of course not a court of law. This was not just. These were two middle aged men with a small hold on power, and not much paternal feeling. Shimon Weisman merely shook his head. Rabbi Fleischman told Shlomo-Yitzakh that he needed to do tshuva, which means repent in English.
It was not until I was walking toward the house, that I realized that both men had utterly ignored Ytizi. Shlomo-Yitzakh did not cry. Moses said nothing, perhaps not wanting to break the silence. Yitzi started talking on his cell phone. "Abishag," he began. "I don't think that abba loves me. He forgot all about me tonght so he and Shlomo-Yitizakh could argue...Yeah, that's really bad. It hurts, but lots of things hurt. It only hurts a little."
We arrived at the house to the smell of reheated quiche and a table full of salads and fresh bread. The shabbos meal was going to happen regardless of what went on in the outside world. At the table, I asked Ellen what she thought of a synagogue service. She said she liked the music. She thought separating the men and women was interesting. She thought the rabbi's sermon on how to determine times for holidays was weird. "I mean does it really matter to get things right to the second or minue and then to a time on the other side of the world?" she asked us.
"It's like synchronizing the watches in the mall," I explained.
"Yeah but...really...don't you know that things just happen when they happen. When everyone is together, you have the meeting. If you say nine o'clock sharp you are just going to feel unhappy for every minute I'm late and I'm only late because you are particular. I mean I know school and most scholar and clan stuff works this way, but that's because you've been taught it's important. What if it's really not?"
I thought of Ellen waiting at the stick port with utter patience a few days ago. "Yeah but what would the world be like if we didn't tell time and keep schedules?" asked Kayla. Chevie rolled her eyes.
Ellen smiled. She stared down at her still empty plate. I suggested we make the kiddush blessing and wash ritually for bread. I reminded any one who needed to clean their hands first physically to do so with soap. "This sounds like my clan," chirped Shlomo-Yitzakh.
After we washed for bread, Ellen told us a story about time and counting. "Once there was an Inuit lady named Tatreqnutaroq, and her father gave her to a French Candien sailor named Lucien. She did not mind; for she was an adventurous girl and she learned to speak his language. He learned bits of hers. That made them good friends as well as husband and wife. Tatreqnutaroq went to live on Lucien's ship. She and he had a cabin all to themselves. It had a table in it. Lucien wanted to teach Tatreqnutaroq to read and write French. She learned it. Words on paper become live again when you speak them. You can not kill them by writing them down. You know that don't you?"
I mentioned that the Ancient Greeks in Europe had the same argument a few thousand years ago. We Jews had had a similar argument when we made the Oral Tradition our written Talmud.
"The only thing that bothered Tatreqnutaroq about her new tongue were the numbres. Lucien and all his friends loved numbers. They were always counting. They even had cards that went from either one or two to twelve or thirteen depending on how you counted the ace and joker in the deck and they used these to play all kinds of counting games when they had nothing serious to count. On the deck of their ship they had instruments for counting direction, the weather, the wind. They had clocks for counting time in tiny pieces. They counted how fast their boat went even when it was almost stuck and not going anywhere at all. All day long, they counted. They said it was important. The believed it was important, but it was really fun b because they had counting games. If someone took all their numbers away, Tatreqnutaroq realized they would probably die of misery and boredom. When you believe in something like numbers so much that you count them and add them up and calculate with them all day and when you make them part of your games, they come alive and then if you kill them, you kill a piece of yourself."
"Wow, that's poetic and philsophical!" cried Chevie.
"I'm sorry for being ethnocentric," answered Ahava.
"What's ethnocentric?" asked Moses.
"It means you believe your ethnic group is the best and the only and everyone else is kind of not quite as good. Ethno means group and centric means center of the world," Shlomo-Yitzakh explained.
"Did they teach you that in Yeshiva?" asked Quil.
"I learned it from my sister and in Torah Day Academy," Shlomo-Yitakh replied. "I always paid attention in English vocabulary. It's really helpful sometimes."
"Some people believe that intelligence and reason can kill stupidity and hate because intelligence and reason are stonger," Ellen told us.
"Who believes that?" asked Chevie. She stared hard at Ellen. I could feel something ugly floating unsaid in the air. Ellen probably couldn't feel it. Ellen was too busy with a last line for her story.
"Lucienne and his captain on the boat where Katiyae-Lune lived."
"And who is Katiaye-Lune?" I asked.
"Katiyae-Lune was Tatreknutaroq's French name. Lucien translated it out of Inupiaq."
"And do you believe the captain?" asked Chevie.
"I'm not sure who's right. It's a very old argument you know?"
"I thought you didn't believe in time," Akiba entered the fray for one quick blow.
"I know when something happened a long time ago."
"How long ago did Quartier-Lune marry her captain Lucien?" I asked.
"It was 1901," Ellen responded.
"Who told you the story about Quatier-Lune?" I asked.
"I'm not going to tell you," Ellen replied.
Ellen came with us to synagogue on Saturday morning. She wore a black tencel skirt that made me want to touch it and a new t-shirt. Kayla wanted to make an argument that t-shirts were either not tznius (Hebrew for modest) or nice enough to wear for Shabbos. I pointed out that Ellen's t-shirt was brand new, made of sturdy cloth, and covered her collar bones. A loose fitting, clean t-shirt could easily double as a blouse. I sometimes wore and sometimes still wear such clothes, but more often I wear a work shirt that is in good condition. Shabbos morning is really business casual when you think about it.
Ellen's t-shirt was an interesting shade of mustard yellow and on it was a penguin and a partially wrapped ice cream sandwich called an Eskimo Pie. In the next few days I would come to know that a lot of Ellen's new shirts were Polar or Eskimo themed advertisements. Somewhere at the bottom of Ellen's personality was a sense of black humor that was a product of pain. I only hoped that that part of her personality was not fragile enough to shatter and resilient enough to stretch and twist without breaking.
I told her I liked the shirt. End of argument. I had awakened early Shabbos morning to a loud argument complete with curse words. Moses was the one doing the cussing. He compalined that someone had left a lot of "white shit" in the children's communal bathroom. I went to inspect the sink and.... I just wondered how late at night Chevie and Kayla had been making bath bombs. Chevie was still asleep. I saw her newest creations marked as Experimental Batch #2 drying on the elephant shaped night table that was wedged between her and Kayla's bed. Chevie sat awake enjoying an art book on an Indian style, curled lap, under her new, embroidered and beaded, Indian counterpane. Part of me felt like sinking my fingers into her skinny shoulder, dragging her to the bathroom and then after a good dressing down, making her clean up her stinking mess. Somehow I decided that such a physical display was not a good idea.
"Chevy," I offered instead. "Moses would like you to clean up the bathroom so he can use it."
"He can use it anyway," quipped Chevy.
She was technically right, but he still should not have to work around a brat's mess.
"Chevy," I began again. "When you are home in Tasmania, do your masters let you leave a mess."
"I do my crafts on the craft porch in Tasmania, and we clean up the craft room once a week. I don't have to do it right away."
"Well this is not Tasmania."
"Your cooks will not let me work in the kitchen."
"They'll give you some space if you ask. Have you asked? You will have to clean up after yourself every time you work there though, and clean up immediately, understand?"
"Imma," Kayla interrupted, "I was supposed to help Chevy clean up, but I was too tired, and besides it's Shabbos."
"Chevy is the one who started the bath bombs. Chevy is the one who has to finish. If you want to help, I won't stop you. What good is Shabbos if you don't think about your brothers and sisters."
Grumpily, Chevy shoved herself out of her nest. "Do I have to make my bed too?" she asked me.
I told her that I couldn't care less. I did not have to come in a sloppy bed room unless of course it was to lay down the law. Chevy went to the kitchen to get sponges and a small bucket and entered the bathroom while doors up and down the hallway opened and several righteously indignant siblings watched with disapproving eyes. I swore I could hear silent applause as Chevy slammed the bathroom door behind her to hide her humiliation and get back at the sibling who snitched.
All of this was enough to make me arrive at schul, hungry, distracted, and irritable, despite the humor in Ellen's t-shirt and the fact that she looked very terrific and together in new clothes. Ahava had been right. The child had been willing to assemble a wardrobe once her old things fell apart. I did not know that her old, torn up, t-shirt lived under her pillow by night and at the bottom of her homespun purse by day. Just because an item becomes an unwearable rag, does not mean you can not use it as a security blanket.
Of course I could have cared less what was in Ellen's bag that Saturday morning. I scanned through the mechitzah. About fifteen minutes into the service, Rabbi Fleischman and his entourage, which included Shimon Weisman arrived. As they walked down the aisle, several men rose, giving the rabbi honor. I kept my butt glued to my seat. A matron next to me scowled. I thought of scowling back.
I scanned again. Baruch, Shlomo-Yitzakh's chavrusa, was just sitting down along with Shlomo-Yitzakh. Moses was pretending to be deep in thought in his prayer book. "Good kid!" I thought. I remembered him studying math in the study with Quil last night. Quil was in many ways a good influence on my son, or maybe Moses had taken it to heart to hold up his end as far as the studying was concerned. I knew I would miss him late tonight and into tomorrow afternoon. The schedule on the refridgerator door said that he planned to be back by two pm on Sunday to begin studying again. I suspected he could not study or did not have the discipline to study (I did not know which) at chez Corliss et famille, down in Druid Hills.
I felt relieved that Quil was at home, Yitzi was with me, and Shlomo-Yitzakh was NOT sitting with his father. I felt relieved enough that I was able to leave the sanctuary to teach the Seminar for those who Really Read the Bible Portion in Advance as it was going to be known. Of course since this was Reunion, my class consisted of Ellen, Kayla, and two girls and one boy who had quietly become Ed-Branch in the past year or so. We discussed why Moses had to die. One of the Ed-Branch girls, a small thing with green rimmed glasses announced that it was because he was NOT like the Greek heroes such as Hercules or like Gilgamesh who were demigods or immortals. In the Bible, all heroes who are human are also mortal and it was especially important to know that Moses met the fate of all flesh, and besides he had lived to be old.
"Then you say HaShem did not punish Moses?" asked Kayla.
"Not really," the girl explained. "He was old. He was human. Yes, he was great, but he was human. Think about Martin Luther King Junior."
"Martin Luther King was assassinated!" the other Ed-Branch girl, who had green eyes answered.
"And that really proves my point, because Martin Luther King was a great man. Well Moses is like that."
Rabbi Grossman got up and explained what the commentators said, about how HaShem buried Moses and carefully took his own soul, giving him special dignities. Jewish Hercules any body?
I disputed him and said that Moses was buried in an unmarked grave like Aaron and Miriam. There had been a burial detail that went up on the mountain because the people probably could not have believed Moses died. "Look what a hard time we have explaining it even today. Imagine if you were living in the encampment. None of the great prophets of Shemosh, Vayikra, Bamidbar, and Devarim have graves the way the patriarchs do at Kiryat Arba." I was glad Shlomo-Yitzakh was not in the room. He probably still longed for Kiryat-Arba. He had to still long for it, I realized.
I was glad when we came upstairs for Musaf. I was exhausted. Kayla was too tired to pray. I told her to freestyle it if she didn't want to read book prayers. Just tell God what you want and what you are thankful for. Count your blessings is a great game. It really is.
Finally, services broke up. I joined the horde in the social hall. There is an after-services speaker, and this week it was an out of town rabbi. Shlomo-Yitzakh and Baruch wanted to stay for the speaker. Moses wanted to head home and see how Quil was doing. I told him to go find the girls and I found Orphia and Akiba and told her to help round up all the kids who were not staying behind to hear the speaker. Ahava said she was staying behind so Ellen would stay with her. I did not worry about those two. They knew their own way home.
Only when I got into the classroom near the ritual washing sink in the back hallways of Beth Jacob Village did I notice who else besides Shlomo-Yitzakh, Ahava, Baruch, and Ellen was in the audience. Yitzi of course had refused to leave my side since he found me at kiddush. He had cookie crumbs rimming his mouth which was stained red from punch flavored soda. He always found that. He bounced on the balls of his feet as he stood next to me. I listened to a rabbi rant about how the so-called Priests wanted to destroy the Jewish people by covertly encouraging intermarriage and discouraging Yiddishkeit. I heard subdued snickers from teh three Ed-Branch kids home on Reunion. The girl with green glasses raised her hand. She held it up a long time, because the ranting rabbi wanted to pretend she did not exist.
Meanwhile, I saw Rabbi Fleischman sitting next to the front of the room and with him...Well you know the rest by now. The girl with green framed glasses wriggled her hand like a bell. The ranting rabbi pretended not to notice. Finally he could resist no longer.
"Excuse me but I'm Ed-Branch and Scholars Union and both groups allow freedom of religion. I started going to services while I was encouraged. I go whenever I'm in my Creche, and now I'm going every week here in Atlanta."
The room replied with uncomfortable silence. I thought of myself in tenth grade, walking up the road to the next village to attend services in a stuffy house with a white painted mechitzah put up to transform the living room into a sanctuary. I remembered black hatted men and women in sack-like dresses and the melody of Hebrew barely sung, but with a tune I could still catch as the new words came alive.
"And what else do they do in your Creche?" ranting rabbi had his road show and talking points down pat.
"Mostly activities and placement. I go to middle school there. It's a university town. There are Hebrew books in the library."
Ranting rabbi returned to his peroration. There wasn't much he could do with one girl in green glasses. I made a point of inviting the girl to my house after services. I managed to invite her even though Baruch and Shlomo-Yitzakh accosted me and told me that they had been invited to Rabbi Fleischman's so they could have the honor of eating lunch with the Ranting Rabbi. I thought of the girl with green glasses. Then I pushed the thought out of my mind. "You tell your host that you can't come without me," I lowered the boom. Shlomo-Yitzakh said he understood and he and Baruch slipped away. I found the girl with green glasses near the door and pointed out Ellen and Ahava to her. I said she could follow them home for lunch at my house. She thanked me profusely and then said she had to let her parents know where she was going to be. I told her she could make the call discretely. I would not tell any one. Shalom bayit (peace in the household), is important.
I caught up with Shlomo-Yitzakh and Baruch, Yitzi trailing at my skirt and looking worried, in the parking lot. I could feel the cookies I had eaten at kiddush turn sour and curdle in the pit of my stomach as we crossed LaVista and headed to a large house where a wife with many children was busy putting out an impressive spread. She complained to her husband about the number of chairs and how she now had too many guests. I wished Nadine at the Wounded Crane Temple could have seen this performance. Number of chairs is such a shopworn excuse yet so darned effective!
The rebbitzen's solution was to have some of the less worthy stand. Since the second meal was more important for the men, those who stood or huddled in the kitchen doorway were females while men, including Shlomo-Yitzakh and Baruch got seats at the table. I did not care. Yitzi clung to my ankles. I stroked his blonde curls as Rabbi Fleischman made kiddush. A Christian story went through my head about wine turning to blood and a betrayal with a kiss, but that had been a Passover Seder not a Shabbos luncheon in late August.
Suddenly Shlomo-Yitzakh got up. "You have my seat, Imma," he said loudly. I sat down. I had barely heard the word, but my brain registered its utter lack of irony. I had wondered and dreaded how it would feel when the foster disappeared from my role. To tell the truth, it felt like nothing at all. It had just happened. I had gotten through, that was all.
The rest of the lunch passed in a blur. There was lots of talk of the "King (God) being in the field" as Jews took stock and got ready for the upcoming High Holy Days in September. The same themes repeat yearly. In some ways this is a comfort. In some ways, it can be boring. I thought of my adolescent students from this morning, who were making their way through this cycle for the first or second time. Who were they? Where had they come from? I thought of Shlomo-Yitzakh dressed in green with his new watch, tie, and sportcoat. I thought of Chevy who took out her anger on bathrooms and bath bombs and who understood Kayla's palace dreams. I thought of Ahava who had once worn armor that clanked, but who now was trying to be an adult. I thought of Yitzi and of the two youngest children. I was past hurting. I was too overwhelmed to feel much, but being actually overwhelmed is different from the dread of the thing. That was why being called Imma did not feel like a blow. It had been coming, and now it was here.
Once the sky had darkened Saturday nigyt, my son, Moses stood frozen and hang dog by my bed. "I really want to see my father," he began. I knew that all ready so what was the problem?
"Are you telling me you haven't been studying and want to go anyway?" I bit.
"No, I studied, but you're really strict sometimes, Imma."
"I have to be strict. Your life depends on that exam. Want to see what you can do?"
"This isn't fun..." Moses protested.
"It's a challenge so it's exciting."
"For you, Imma."
I got out the flash cards and problem books. Moses did much better with fractions and decimals. He did fine with most formulae. He had memorized them he told me. Then we moved on to word problems or pragmaticals as they are called in Fifty-Three Stars, the Interior version of the United States.
I watched him scratch his way through a dozen of them. Then I gave him five of the really hard ones. He got four. It was progress.
"Did I pass?" asked Moses.
"Not yet." The boy blinked. "You have two weeks to the exam and you need to do more. Problemas pragmáticos are a big deal there, not that I think it's bad. Your middle school should have done that."
"Imma, I never worked as hard in school as I'm working now."
"That's OK. I like what I see. Let me get you a comm phone."
"You need to come home at two pm so you can study more, remember."
"I can call from father's house if he isn't taking me back like he's supposed to."
"And what if you go out and don't happen to be home?"
"I'll get shitcanned."
"Not if you call me and I come and get you."
"What if we go all the way to Tennessee or South Carolina?" Moses was serious. He may have loved his father and wanted a relationship with him, but Corliss was a hard person to trust when you fell out of the class of Independent folks who glided through life. Now that Moses needed to claw his way up, his father was no longer on his side.
"I have a lot of fuel. I'll get you. If I have to drive five hundred miles each way, I'll get you. If he kidnaps you, we're in court."
"If he kidnaps me, I'm screwed, but he won't. He's got five other kids."
"I thought it was four."
"There was a lady he got pregnant before he married Suzette. He has to pay child support for the kid."
"Just what you need, a bastard sibling."
"It's better than being an only child."
"OK, go get a change of clean clothes, something to sleep in, and your toiletries. I want you home clean and in clean clothes, understand. You can bring home the dirties. You can even change to go down to chez Corliss et Famille. Got that?" My son nodded and I went to borrow Ki's comm phone so my son could stay in touch. Corliss had no comm phone since the riots last summer.
A short while later, Moses sat in the living room. In the kitchen Shlomo-Yitzakh, his chavrusa Baruch, and another boy were having a loud conversation. I could hear Orphia's voice asking them to take plates with their snacks and rinse off all the dishes when they were done.The boys who did not want to eat among women carried their snacks into the dining room and plopped down, so they could carry on a theological or halachic argument that amused them.
Moses sniffed. Quil was reading in the study or on the computer, perhaps teaching Chevie basics. Kayla was with them. Ahava and Ellen had walked to Buckhead to escort Beanie, short for Jacobina, the girl wtih the green glasses back home. They had house keys and could let themselves in.
I put Moses and Yitzi in the car and we rode down to Druid Hills so I could drop off my son. Chez Corliss et Famille was a castle-like, red brick, mansion on one of the little streets off of East Ponce de Leon in the no man's land between Decatur and Atlanta. It had a big lawn, cut by Mexican groundskeepers and air conditioning that whirred loudly into the night to compete with the cicadas and other chirping insects. I watched my son walk across the grass. I saw the big house swallow him up.
"Do you think Corliss is going to take Moses to South Carolina?" asked Yitzi.
I shrugged. I had no idea. Given the size of his family, the odds against such a rash move were high. As for the rest, I had a feeling we'd have a ride on Sunday afternoon when I went to collect Moses from his unrealistic, father's clutches.
I stared at the big house and hoped it was mostly paid for. I knew Corliss' parents and possibly his second wife's family subsidized the place, but for how long? I thought of the deep interior mall, I'd visited with Chevie when she went to by pretty bedding with Kayla on Friday. "These are ignorant, wealthy, and vulnerable people," I thought, and that was a stinking shame. I was too old for shadenfreude. Were I twenty or even twenty-five, though, I might have enjoyed it. Moses, I told myself was going to make it and that was what mattered.
I got home in time enough to find Ahava and Ellen safely returned and arguing with Chevie who was complaining there was nothing to do. She did not want to make more bath bombs because she needed scent and could not go out for scent because I was not there to ask and I said it was too late at night when I did ask.
"But there's nothing to do...I hate this place. I wish I were back in Hobart!" I pictured a wall and heard a thunk of a loud and obnoxious nine year old throwing herself into it to make the loudest thunk she could.
"Why not work on your Computer Basics?" I asked, playing the roll of typical, clueless parent. Chevie had this drama down pat.
"Baiscs are boring!" I rated the comeback five on a scale of one to ten.
"OK, then help my cooks in the kitchen."
"Ellen is hogging the computer."
"Ellen has privileges because she learned basics."
"Ellen walked six miles in the sun. Ellen is crazy." I wondered how I could annoy Chevie who was attacking from a variety of angles with a scattershot, barrage of complaints.
"If it's a nice day, how else are you supposed to walk?" asked Ahava.
"You're crazy. You'll fry your brains."
"So we should sit around, whine, and beg rides."
"You're an asshole!"
"Wow!" I thought. "Profanity!"
"The hell I am," Ahava's face blazed red. "Who helped you when you made that phone call?"
"Who was in her own world the whole time I was growing up!"
"You were Mom's favorite, and besides, I was only ten when I got shitcanned by the community. I was one year older than you. I wasn't old enough to take care of you. Last fall was different, understand?"
"And what about Kayla?"
"I bought her cookies when I lived home and gave her money. What did you do?"
"I took care of her and was a real big sister."
"And you taught her to shoplift."
"We had no money. Besides, it's nice to decide what you eat and what you get. I remember all those bows Kayla took. I'd put 'em in her hair. You want to see a kid smile. She'd light up a whole room. That's what I did."
"Well I kept three of you from starving. I gave you all my stipend, remember."
"It worked fine until Quil and Yaakov had that fight."
"Quil was just acting immature."
"Yeah, well you know what Yaakov called Miz Antonia."
"Yeah but to lose your temper like that."
"And what about what Abba did afterwards?"
"It sucked and it was stupid too. The grownups in our family are assholes. We know that. It still doesn't excuse Quil."
"And what would you have done?"
"I don't know. I don't know how to fight."
"Fighting's ugly," Quil's voice cut through the overheard conversation as he came into the living room. "You hurt yourself when you fight even if you win. Yaakov deserved to have the shit beat out of him, but...And Abba and Rabbi Fleischman deserve even worse, but if I fight them, even if I win, I'll get myself dirty. It's not worth it. It would be like rolling in shit. I rolled in shit once with Yaakov. He can go rot in a sewer somewhere, rot in a fucking sewer and the same is true for Rabbi Fleischman, Abba,and all the assholes who pretend to be so holy, got that!" Quil turned toward the dining room in time to hear Baruch reply: "It's an aveira to criticize a rav."
"Go EXPLETIVE DELETED yourself!" snarled Quil. "You know what an EXPLETIVE DELETEDing hypocrite is. That's Abba and Rabbi Fleischman, and the dick heads who hung out on Miz Antonia's lawn until Rabbi Grossman told them to get a life."
"And you goody-goodies, what did you ever do for me?" Quil continued.
"Ten and eleven year olds aren't supposed to be parents," Ahava tried to stop the argument.
"Then what happens when there are no parents?" Quil asked.
"We grew up that way," Ahava stated the obvious. "I'm fifteen now. My teachers and my placement specialists helped me and now I have a clan. Chevie has a nurturing team. Quil, you have a clan. Moses has a clan. Shlomo-Yitzakh has a clan and Kayla is encouraged. The only kids left who need somebody are Yitzi, Yoni, and Hulda, and it needs to be someone who is all grown up, not us."
"How EXPLETIVE DELETEDING convenient!" laughed Chevie.
"An oldest child is not a parent!" Ahava held her ground.
"It's wrong not to have family," Shlomo-Yitzakh waded back into the frey. "It really is. It's not natural," he mused.
"And what if family won't see you?" "Maybe," I thought. "We could make this conversation productive."
"I saw Abba today," Shlomo-Yitzakh stated.
"I don't want to see Abba. I'd want to beat the shit out of him, and I don't want to beat shit," Quil reminded his brother.
"Abba never had anything to do with me. He was always busy with the boys," Chevie explained.
"Dad didn't invite me to lunch today. He's treated me like I didn't exist since I was ten and never paid much attention to me before because I'm female," Ahava added.
"Kayla?" I asked. "Abba let Imma cut off all my hair," was the child's indictment.
Yitzi I all ready knew wanted to see his father. I suspected Yoni did too. Now for the other parent. Yes, there was another parent.
"All right," I began. "Who here wants to see their mother?"
"And why or why not?" Ahava sing-songed. "I saw her six months ago. She cried. She was on bed rest because of Hulda. I felt bad about that. Yeah, EXPLETIVE DELETEDing generous of me, and real noble. She cries every time I see her. It's manipulation. I don't know. She'll cry if I see her and I won't feel sorry for her."
"Would you see her if I arranged it?" "Shit or cut bait, Ahava," I thought.
Ahava shrugged. "You don't have to put yourself out for it," she told me.
"Chevie, how about seeing Imma?"
"Why do you want to know?"
"Because it's hard to be without a parent even if she is not the best parent. It's OK to have mixed feelings."
"We're talking about vis-it-a-tion," Chevie spat back. "I could care less. I'm like Ahava. Imma stopped feeding me when I went to first grade. There were never enough chairs. The babies get all the food, and now even the babies starved at the end, this summer. I mean, it all starts out with the tit. A mother feeds her kids. If she doesn't then....I'm not even pissed off at her. I'm pissed off about what Abba did to Quil, but not about the food. I mean, I took care of myself. I didn't have a choice. I taught the others. I don't feel bad. You do what you have to do, you know?"
"Kayla, you're next:" I guessed going through the girls first was the best strategy. There was of course one girl child down in Avondale Estates, but I'd deal with her tomorrow.
"Imma cut off all my hair like the witch in Rapunzel," Kayla said. "The hair was all over the floor. Every time I'd look in the mirror, I'd think of Imma. Even at the Creche the new ladies would ask: 'Kayla what happened to your hair?' and I'd have to tell them."
"Do you want to see your mother?" I asked.
"No," Kayla replied. "Rapunzel didn't want to go back to the witch either," she added. "Let's play BOARD GAMES," I answered and turned to the boys.
"You should honor your mother and father," Shlomo-Yitzakh began. "Does that mean you would be willing to see your mother?" I asked. My oldest foster son nodded.
Then it was Quil's turn. "I guess," he sighed. "As long as it's not with him." "That may not be possible. It won't be unspervised. I'll be there. Would you see your mother then." Quil softly said yes.
"I want to see Abba!" shouted Yitzi. "I don't care if he beat up Quil."
"And what about Imma?" I asked.
"She cut off all of Kayla's hair like the witch," Yitzi answered. "Would you see her anyway?"
"Imma is not well. She's sick in bed."
"You can visit the sick."
"You're torturing him!" Chevie wielded a cudgel.
"I'm trying to get an answer. Yitzi, would you visit your Imma if another grown up were there to protect you?"
Yitzi said nothing. I made the decision for him. Then I tallied up the votes. Shlomo-Yitziakh, Yitzi, and Yoni wanted to see their father. Ahava, Chevie, and possibly Yitzi and Yoni would see their mother if I made them. I realized I had forgotten to ask Quil about his mother.
Quil blinked. "She gave me up for dead," he told me, " and the answer is no if I have a choice. I don't really have family to go back to. I can live with that."
This was not going to be easy. "I'd leave all of this the way it is if it were just you older kids," I said. Yitzi for the purposes of being in my house was an older kid. He had thrown in his lot with the big boys. He ate from a plate and peed standing up. He walked long distances without complaint. He was highly verbal. Yoni and Hulda, were in a different class and they were these kids' siblings.
Leigh and Shimon Weisman had made no attempt to get back Yoni or Hulda. Neither Yoni nor Hulda had any mistake of anything done wrong to them or to older siblings. They were going to be orphanned.
"Are you saying it's our faults!" asked Chevie.
"No, not at all. I'm just saying that the younger ones are going to want to see both parents, probably, which means you can't just slam the door on one or the other parent because the babies need to have some kind of relationship with them, see them once in a while, or maybe live with them once they straighten themselves out if they can."
"Until one of Abba's friends beats the shit out of them," Quil quipped.
"It took your father fifteen years to make that one mistake," I responded. "It could be another fifteen or twenty years. Do you cut him off from a baby who wants to see him for what he did to you?"
"You're telling us not to be selfish," answered Chevie."And you mean it. When you bring the little kids to visit, we have to go too."
"Not if you don't want to. Shlomo-Yitzakh or Ahava can go. Probably Quil shouldn't because of teh way he feels, but you said you were neutral enough to hold your temper."
"It's doing your duty. It's not love," Ahava explained.
"You're big on duty," Chevie answered.
"Sometimes it's the right thing," Shlomo-Yitzakh replied.
"You may make yourself useful yet, watch it," Chevie cautioned her older brother. Quil laughed. It was not a happy sound.
Some time close to midnight, Ellen brought me some song lyrics that I did not recognize. They were in English and she said they were by "Share." She remembered them or rather Tricia did. "Can you translate these into French?"
"Why?" I asked.
"I just want you to."
"You don't read French. How would you sing them?"
"You could teach me?"
"I'm going to take French in school anyway."
"Yes, but who needs to hear this song in French?"
"It's not your business."
"It's my business if I'm going to do the work."
"No it's not. You just call it craziness."
"I call it Tatreqnutaroq or Quartier Lune or baby Charlotte. The Western language she learned was French not English and her other language was Inupiat. You speak to your baby sister in Inupiat and she told you about herself. Right...."
"Does that make you feel good to know my secrets?"
"No, but at the moment, a dead baby sister who tells you stories of contact with Whites nearly two hundred years ago is nothing, a big nothing. I've got six foster kids with neglectful, hurtful, parents they can't get rid of. A dead baby who has pleasant conversations with her older sister is a walk in the park, get that."
"Then you don't think I'm crazy and you like Baby Charlotte."
"I think that she is a benign influence."
"And benign means good like beneficial or benir in Frnech which means blessing."
"Yes, what's the opposite of benign?"
"Baby Charlotte says it's mal-ign. Like malfeasance which means badness."
"Or malignant which means cancer," I added. "Latin roots are wonderful things."
"And when everyone could write down words or lots of people could, they could share them and keep them alive," Ellen ended the story. "That's why it is good to write Inupiat."
"Ellen, why don't you translate the song into Inupiat?" I asked.
"I can't," she told me. "It has words that aren't in the language."
I glanced at the page of lyrics: "My father married up your Cherokee. My mother's people were ashamed of me. The Indians said that I was white by law. The white man always called me Indian squaw!" Yikes, the song really did need a Western language. Only then did I realize I would be singing to a two hundred year old dead baby that lived in a cheap, homespun purse, belonging to a seven year old who could not see her parents.
Fast Track to Nowhere
"You can have two choices," I told Chevy and Kayla Sunday morning as we ate a surprizingly early breakfast. Ahava and Ellen had all ready made up their minds to help Orphia and Akiba with the marketing. Chevy and Kayla could do that too or they could come with Quil, Yitzi, Shlomo-Yitzakh and me to see Yoni and Hulda in Avondale Estates. Chevy turned down both choices. "Are you going to make more bath bombs?" I inquired. "We don't have color or scent," she told me and glared at me. "And your computer is off limits."
"The computer is coming with me today," I informed all the children. Bucket of Bolts was all ready packed in its handy draw-string bag for the trip to Avondale Estates and then hopefully to Druid Hills to pick up Moses. I did not hold out much hope for his being home at the appointed time. I all ready blamed Corliss, my exhusband for that. I planned to take extra fuel chits along with the computer that morning.
"...This house really sucks," Chevy continued. She hadn't hit the wall yet. The walls in my world are fairly far away. Chevy had plenty of room to flail. Maybe I would grow to enjoy watching her. I was not sure about that.
Chevy glanced at her siblings who were not raised to be sympathetic and so weren't. Neither Orphia nor Akiba seemed upset. Ki was trying to ignore the upset child, taking my lead. "You sound like Imma" Quil told his younger sister. Chevy responded with an expletive and then she sputtered. She glanced at Kayla who stared into space. "Miz Antonia," Chevy addressed me. She did not call me "Imma" which was fine. Miz Antonia or Miz Mandel was a lot better than Dibri any day of the week. "Can Kayla stay home and do origami?" Chevy did not say please, but I'm not a big fan of fake politeness. "Sure," I told Chevy. "Is that all right with you?" I asked Kayla who was all ready smiling, perhaps with relief.
I was glad to get to Marilyn's townhouse in Avondale Estates even though the car was crowded and smelled faintly of well-washed boy. "Yoni," I squeeled. "I brought all your brothers."
"My they're handsome!" cooed Marilyn. Amber shrugged. She caught Shlomo-Yitzakh's eye and then turned away from his face which was slowly turning the color of raspberries. Amber was not bad looking, fat from pregnancy and childbirth, but warm, fecund, and with intelligent, sloe eyes. There was a kind of power in her presence from her early ripeness. Quil sat on the floor with Yitzi and Yoni. He spoke to his youngest brother and when nothing happened blinked.
"You have to put your voice up high or he can't hear you." Amber's own voice ascended the scale and Yoni looked at her. Shlomo-Yitzakh stared at the carpet, avoiding the face with sloe eyes. Amber joined the boys on the floor after setting Caramel in the crib with Hulda. "Yoni," Amber coohed. "Where do you want to go today."
"I want Abba in the taxi!" the boy called out.
"We don't have any taxis," Shlomo-Yitzakh told his brother and the words went right by him. "High voice," Amber reminded him.
Shlomo-Yitzakh was not yet ready for the world of falsettos. "How you ever going to be a minder?" I asked my second oldest foster child.
"I'm not...I mean...men don't do that."
"What about for other boys?" I had more than once had to beg to get male sitters for Alfred who is now Moses.
"Boys need men in their lives," I continued.
"Yeah like Abba," snarled Quil. Yoni glanced at Quil. Maybe he was learning to read lips or at least faces.
Shlomo-Yitzakh got up. He had had enough. He sat nervously on the couch, while Quil, Yitzakh and I began the taxi game to take Yoni on his imaginary ride to Toco Hills. Marilyn let us finish the game before she said she wanted to talk to me alone in the kitchen.
Marilyn pulled the kitchen's sliding, bifold door shut as soon as I was in the room with her. She looked grave. "Amber isn't telling you because I wanted you to hear it first as another adult," Marilyn began. "We got back the news from the ear doctor on Friday. Yoni is deaf from not getting medicine for ear infections. His ear drum is messed up, but his nerves are all right. That means they are going to put hearing aids on him."
I breathed a sigh of relief and then it hit. "Are they sure it was neglect?" I asked.
"What else could it be?" Marilyn answered.
"This isn't going to be good for the Weismans," I commented.
"Yeah....I feel for all those kids out there. The parents haven't visited. They're rude to everybody. They aren't cooperating with the social worker, and they missed their first court date. With this on top of everything, you can guess what comes next, especially since there's a baby out there who doesn't remember them, and a toddler who needs a stable home, not foster care."
I could not guess what came next. I was thinking back to the night when I threatened Shimon Weisman, the night when I told him he would be sorrier than he would ever be in his life if he did not let me feed his children. I was sorry now right along with Shimon. I could not make myself think of Leigh, so I did not even go there.
"...They're going to fast track those kids," Marilyn explained.
Fast tracking sounded like a good thing, so I said nothing. Yes, I was that ignorant, but Marilyn did not let me stay that way for long. "That means fast track for an adoption. That means termination of parental rights for all the DFACs kids. That's Kayla, Yitzi, Yoni, and Hulda."
"Kayla is encouraged," I could think Ed-Branch before I could think anything else.
"Then they may interfere. If you can talk to their priests."
"I know who to talk to," I sounded confident until I overheard Yitzi singing Shalom Aleichem and Shlomo-Yitzakh joining with him. I wanted to scream. "They're gonig to separate the siblings," I figured it out. "Well that's not right."
"I'm letting you know in advance so you can make a play for Yitzi."
Make a play must have meant try to adopt him, but I was a foster parent through Ed-Branch and the Portal Priests not through DFACs who was the agency going to court. I felt sick. I wondered if Nadine could help me, but for Yitzi to lose Yoni. I was not ready for another infant, and Hulda migh tbe better off starting fresh somewhere, though Yoni and Yitzi and surely Kayla would feel different.
"It would be better if the parents were putting up a real fight," sighed Marilyn. "That way even the little kids could stay foster and everyone could stay together when they came home from their clans."
"If wishes were horses, beggars would ride," I sighed back.
"What you going to do?" Marilyn asked me.
"Think about it and probably hire a lawyer if I can find the money." That sounded good, but I felt as if someone had dropped a rock on my head. I almost forgot it was pushing 1:30pm and I needed to call Moses. I went to the bathroom and sat on the toilet, bucket of bolts on my lap. I did not want Amber or Marilyn to see me blow up on the comm phone if Corliss and I had a fight and I knew that Corliss and I frequently went at it when Moses was involved.
Fortunately, Moses picked up Ki's phone, but I could hear Corliss in the background. He said something like: "I didn't know you had a cell phone?" Why should Moses have told his father, not if he wanted to return home on time or by the end of the day. The second possiblity was a lot more likely.
I asked Moses how he was doing, slowly building up to the big question. "I'm in Dahlonega, Imma," my son told me.
"Not a problem," I replied. "Can you give me an exact location?"
"There's a big festival. We're walking around on Oak and First, Second, Third street. That kind of area. The streets with the numbers cross Main Street, but Main Street is blocked off for the parade and concert. Suzette doesn't like crowds."
"OK," I told my son. I had a feeling Suzette and Corliss feared more than crowds, but this was Reunion...still... I'd have to see what was going on in Dahlonega up close. Neither Corliss and Suzette were really fools when I thought about it. The problem was they wanted to be fools and tried hard, but their own ingelligence and intution would not let them be fools.
"When I reach Dahlonega I'm calling you again and you'll give me a precise location so I can intercept you. You need to get back to Atlanta. You have work to do." Suzette could take care of her own children. I had enough on my plate. I told Moses I loved him, hung up, and went out of the bathroom. I could feel where the toilet seat had eaten into my buttocks. The phone call hadn't seemed that long. Shlomo-Yitzakh was teaching Yoni Hava Negillah when I asked for his and Quil's attention. Quil supplied the upper register and Yitzi was picking up the lyrics like a sponge. I hated to interrupt the concert with news of the next stage of our journey.
Shlomo-Yitzakh did not seem particularly thrilled to be travelling to Dahlonega, but I did not want Baruch to talk him into visiting Rabbi Fleishman's without an adult whom I trusted along for protection. The last thing I needed was to see Shlomo-Yitzakh's soft fleshed cheeks bruised or his golden brown eyes blackened.
I got all the boys in the car, and off we went to the mountains. We had to park well outside of downtown on a dirt lot and pay three dollars for the privilege. Main street was blocked off by a huge parade with floats, costumed children, balloons, and a stage where performers danced under strange lights and dueled with glowing swords. I smelled stick in the air, but saw no opening and heard no siren. Still the tightness at the bottomof my stomach told me what was going on. It didn't matter that it was Reunion.
I got out Bucket of Bolts and called Moses. He gave me a location near 4th and Maple, at a food tent. "Be careful, Imma. Dad is really pissed off," Moses warned me. Well Corliss could eat himself alive with anger for what I cared. I led my crew into town while body-stocking clad warrirors wearing masks danced with spears and javelins blocking Main Street. I tried not to look at the faces of the crowd. Some just stood agape. Some watched with fascination, others pretended not to see, an interesting tactic. Among the tourists and locals, there were parents clad in old clothes, and a few even in rags. These were a new addition, but outside Ithaca and in the rural parts of Georgia, a lot of the population, no one knew how much lived off the grid. Dahlonega was where the wilderness began and civilization ended. That was all. That was the explanation, that and the fact that since the riots, some people had run wildly for the wildnerness but had no idea how to survive there. The failures would return, scarred, scared, and angry. They usually were too hungry to be savvy enough to figure out my status. I had nothing to worry about, I told myself as I managed to find the last of the daincing warriors and lead my brood across Main Street down to Maple and then up to Fourth.
There were several food tents. Moses was not in the blue and white striped tent. He was also not in the plain green tent. The orange and cream striped tent was where he was. He stood at the head of a long table. Corliss, Suzette, and their tribe sat several tables away. A large family was at Moses' table, eating pizza, fried chicken, and cold sodas. The family was filthy. Their clothing reminded me of Ellen's t-shirt before it became unwearable. Was the family living in its car? Did it live under plastic tarps, in a trailer, a shack, a tent?
I walked up to my son. "This is my mother," Moses introduced me to the family whose last name was Thomas. I would not remember their first names. One of the boys was Yitzi's age and there was a girl baby that made me think of Hulda. I thought of Leigh Weisman except the mother of this brood looked too grey and defeated to work up Leigh's manipulative style and tactics.
I told Moses we had a long drive back to Atlanta. I walked over to Corliss and thanked him for watching my son.
"Do you know what he just did?" asked my exhusband.
"You used his food chits to feed a starving family," I said softly. Corliss shook his head. "Sometimes, An-toe-knee-ah, it is better not to draw attention to oneself. Moses takes after you."
I pretended not to hear but turned intsead to Suzette. "I smell stick work here. I think there is a temporary portal somewhere. If I were you, I'd take the children and head back down the highway."
"We were planning to spend a couple of night's here," Corliss explained.
"It's not a good idea," I argued. "There's a taking in progress. It's not a big one with sirens, but sometimes in the malls they are selective. I smell stick."
"You said that all ready."
"I don't think it sunk in. None of your children except Moses are encouraged or placed. That means they're fair game once they turn six."
"I know that."
"You can't buy your way out of this one."
"Please..." sighed Suzette. My remark was in bad form.
"The safest thing you can do is leave."
"We paid for the rooms in advance," Suzette explained, then she stopped. "Moses' feeding beggars won't hurt anything or change anything. He is all ready placed," I explained. "It's up to you," I reminded my exhusband and his wife.
Suzette stared at the grain of the well worn, food tent table. Moses came over to join me. "I'll see you back in Atlanta, Dad," he said and we were out of the food tent. The Thomas' had plenty to eat. Moses led us down Maple until we could safely cross Main and find our car. With every step, we became safer and more comfortable, or at least I thought so. I was glad to get in the car. I was not hungry even though it had been hours since I ate, and the boys knew enough not to compalin, even Yitzi.
I'd stop at a convenience store for cold drinks. I had cash money to pay for them. I told myself I'd make the stop as soon as I calmed down inside. I could only imagine what Suzette was feeling, and not acting upon, because to act you had to admit you were vulnerable. I wondered if either she or Corliss would come to their senses.
"They're going to blame me if anything happens to their children," Moses told me.
"Then why did you feed those people?" Shlomo-Yitzakh asked.
"It was the right thing to do," my son explained.
"I can understand that," said Quil. "The trick though is to figure out how to feed all of them."
"I couldn't afford that," Moses answered.
"I suspect you were out to bribe the Deity," I told my son.
"What's a deity?" Moses asked.
"She means HaShem," Shlomo-Yitzakh explained.
"Fuck no," Moses replied and then he smiled and I thought he would be sick. I was still a bit stick sick myself. Perhaps all the fear in the crowd was contageous, the fear, the fascination, and the waiting for what.... You can only save yourself, even when it goes wrong, you can only save yourself. Do you hear that, Moses?
"OK, maybe," Moses confessed. &qout;I'm scared about THAT EXAM. Those people I fed would be better off if they just let themselves be taken and got it over with."
"Being taken means giving up," Quil countered.
"Well you can give up when you've tried everything else. Besides, life goes on after you get taken. Didn't you learn that?"
"Yeah, but we're kids and we're talented. Those old adults are just burnt out. They'd end up..." Quil let it go. There were some things better left unsaid, but I could have filled in Quil's sentences except he might not be right.
"What if a shower, some fresh clothes, and regular food gave those folks back their dignity?"
"They need strength, brains, skills."
"Maybe those things come back when you're fed."
"These aren't Ed Branch kids with material need!" Quil argued back.
"I did what I could. People are less scaird and stupid when they eat," Moses told all of us. "I'm going to need to be a decent person even if I don't pass THE EXAM."
We never stopped for sodas or iced tea. We got home and Orphia and Akiba laid out an early supper for all of us. There was Waldorf salad without nuts, that Yitzi tried and liked. There were roast sweet potatoes for Shlomo-Yitzakh which were his favorite food. Moses stared at his plate as if the food were plastic rather than real stuff. "If something happens to one of Dad's children, he's going to blame me," he sighed.
"That's going to be very convenient," I replied.
The next morning, I sent Ahava with any of the other children interested in swimming to the pool up on Druid Hills Road. Shlomo-Yitzakh went to study with Baruch in the Kollel. Quil and Moses studied together as they had the night before. I walked up LaVista. I did not want to think of where I was going or why I was going there. Like Moses faced by the beggar family, I had no choice and did not care about blame.
I reached the Oakes and knocked on the door. A female voice from far away asked: "Who is it?"
"It's Shifra Silverman," I lied. "My mother sent me." Shifra had been in eighth grade when Channie (now Ahava) was in fourth. She would have an adult voice and hopefully an accent similar enough to mine. I heard footsteps moving toward the apartment door. My right foot itched. I tried not to think of any of its bones being broken.
Leigh Weisman opened the door and I stuck my foot in her apartment all the way to the ankle."Why you!" she all but screamed. She was pale from lack of sunlight, puffy, hair half way between brown and grey (Mine is all grey, remember?) stuffed under a pink and white, faux silk, checkered head scarf, dirty pink bathrobe and fuzzy slippers to match. She had big feet. I imagined her kicking me once the element of surprize wore off.
She'd get her chance. I leaped into the Weisman's apartment. I imagined a stench of rotting food, garbage not taken out, diapers not changed, even though there were no longer any children living there. In reality, the place was reasonably clean, and there was no food so no food garbage to stink. "Get out now!" Leigh shrieked. I smiled.
"This is important," I told Leigh. "It's about your children."
"You had them taken you...." Leigh tried to search for a name vile enough for what I had done.
"DFACS took them because you did not feed them." There, I had said it. "Now they're going to fast track them to take away your parental rights unless you do something to stop it."
"You do something!" Leigh answered. "You're the one who made this mess."
"I'm doing something right now. I'm telling you you need to fight, not me. You need to talk to the social worker, go to whatever classes they ask you to attend, show up in court. It will stop the fast track. It will keep the older children with me and the younger ones with Marilyn where you can visit them."
"My husband and I don't want to see Shmuel [Shlomo-Yitzakh]. Channie is not part of this family and hasn't been for five years. That was her own doing. It makes a mother cry. Do you know how many tears I wept?"
I did not answer. Then I asked. "What about Yitzi, Yoni, and Hulda. They're the ones the county wants. Don't you want to see your daughter for whom you lay in bed for months."
"When the Inquisition went to baptize the Jewish babies do you know what their mothers did?"
"DFACS is not the Inquisition!"
"What if they ask Shimon to stop learning and join a clan."
"You join a clan that lets you keep the apartment so you can stay in this community when you are not doing your clan job."
"Just like you!"
"I ended up in a clan through the criminal courts. Family court is a lot gentler."
For a few minutes neither of us said anything. I gave Leigh a copy of the papers that Marilyn had given me. She read them over. "This is not fair," she said to every body and no one. "We did not have money for doctors. Shimon lost his job. If they wanted us to take children to doctors, the Company needed to keep Shimon and let us practice our religion. This isn't fair."
I thanked Leigh for letting me into her apartment. I said I hoped I would not have to lie to gain entrance next time. Then I left.
My legs shook as I walked back down LaVista. I tried to imagine the children at the pool. I tried not to think about my next errand.
I started with a call to Athalie Stonecrock's voicemail. Then I drove down to the Ed-Branch Dorm House on Ponce. I explained that I needed to get in touch with Athalie Stonecrock despite the fact that is was Reunion. Ed-Branch Atlanta's interests were bieng threatened by DFACS. The wheels turned too slowly for my taste, but turn they did. Suffice it to say by lunch time I got to speak to Athalie who was home with her parents in California. She asked how Kayla was doing. I said she'd be fine if no one gave her to another family. Then I explained about the Fast Track. She asked if Ed-Branch had gottn in touch with its counsel since stuff like this went through the courts. I replied that they had. Athalie sighed. "I'm going to have to come back East. I think they are going to need me to testify.There's no reason to toss Kayla around like a soft ball."
I was glad Athalie was on my side. I had one more gun in my arsenal to take on DFACS. At lunch I asked Chevy if she would like some scents and colors for making bath bombs. "What do I have to do to get thenm?" she asked. Then she tried to disguise her eagerness by looking away. "I thought I was shitcanned."
"Not yet," I told her. "Besides, I need to go deep into the Interior. It's no inconvenience to take you to buy what you want." Chevy was not sure what to make of my reply. I hammered it home. "You are lucky today," I told her. Someone had to be lucky, and it might have well been Chevy. She took Kayla with her. We rode the subway well into the Interior, but got off two stops before the Cross Roads where I worked at the Wounded Crane Temple. The Portal Pirests had office hours in the afternoon, though we had to wait over an hour to see them. The Priest I saw was a thin male with a slight mustache and a head like an ivory colored Q-Ball. I showed him the Fast Track paperwork and a copy of Yoni's medical records. I explained about the police raid two weeks ago. I explained that there were eight children all of whom, except for Baby Hulda, were close to each other. I explained how a traditional adoption in DeKalb County Georgia with full termination of parental rights would separate the siblings. I was out of breath.
"You want us to stop your admins." The Priest was a quick study when you thought about it. I was thinking about it.
"Yes," I answered.
"And this is not even the Company. There is a reason the Company is ineffective. There is a reason we have claimed your world," the Priest sighed. I shrugged. I did not care. I just did not want to see Yitzi and the rest lose their younger siblings. I did not trust Leigh or Shimon to help themselves. Ed-Branch could only save Kayla and possbly Ahava. The Creators might be able to act on Chevy's behalf, but a Portal Priest could act for every one. The Priest said he'd refer the case back to the Atlanta office. I got a call from them in the early evening on Monday. We would meet on Wednesday and hopefully, there would be Priests in family court, using their clout to upstage a local judge and a bevy of unhappy social workers. I could pray.
That night while I lay in bed, I could not sleep. I could hear Ellen singing. "She was born in the wagon of a travelling show. Her mother used to dance for the money they would throw. Grandpa do whatever he could. Preach a little gospel, sell a couple bottles of Doctor Good." It was an odd song. It was probably also very old. I reminded myself I had to translate a song about a Half Breed Indian in the Lower Forty-Eight for a two hundred year old, dead, Inuit baby. I got out the lyrics to Half Breed by Cher and went to work until I was tired enough to shut my eyes.
"My father married up your Cherokee!" A woman sang while a base boomed in the background. She wore white go-go boots with lots of fringe, sort of Western, sort of American Indian. She had round, amber skinned thighs, round amber breasts, and a round amber face. She gripped the microphone and swayed her hips as she sang. Her eyes were somewhere between green and light brown, but her hair was jet black and done in stubby braids. Her cheekbones were high and her voice, both loud and sultry. She untethered the mic and danced on the stage as she sang. She had big, robust lungs full of air and the strength of someone ten years younger than me.
She danced and sang in a bar that smelled of air freshener which covered up the stale scent of forced air heat that had to blow hard to combat the subzero cold outside. It was dark out and had been dark since just a bit after 12pm that day. In a world with no light or nearly none in the winter, the bar was the warm place where weary, working men, gathered. They were glad for the Alaskan Native girl wtih the big voice and energy. They sat nursing their beers, while a blonde bouncer with breasts made big and hard with silicone, gathered tips. The singing girl was always one of their best acts. She finished her song and the MC, a man with a rust and silver mustache said: "Let's all give a big hand for Tricia!"
I sat up in bed, both drenched with sweat and shivering. It was the stick from yesterday afternoon and the shock of the Fast Tracking I told myself. I staggered to my bathroom and nearly did not make the bowl before losing my dinner into the toilet. The vomit burned the back of my throat, but the dream of Tricia on stage stayed with me. I tried to imagine Tricia crying in the night, but she didn't cry. She was a strong woman. Only illness contracted through dirty needles felled her. She did not regret her life with a big voice on a small stage. Leave her, her life and story unsullied, I told myself. Let her bring her gifts to the dead baby sister.
"Poor Ellen and Charlotte," I thought. I could not imagine losing a child, and yet I could. It just didn't have words or images. There were no bright lights, music, sweat, stink of air freshener, and musty winter things that are worn like a second skin. I burrowed my face into the pillow. The lump in my throat gave me plenty of warning, but I had no idea how loudly I would cry.
Clouds Can Hide the Sun
I awakened Tuesday morning to find Moses on the landline in the kitchen and in the way of Orphia and Akiba who pretend not to notice him and Kayla and Chevy who really don't care about him. "No," Moses told the voice on the other end of the line. "Everyone here is all right. I don't know anything. I wish I did. I just knew we had to get out of there....Imma was right....No, those beggars didn't do anything. They just wanted something to eat. You have to pay attention to people like that Dad. Yes, I can tell you what to do. You have to know right and wrong.....We stole to survive Dad. That's different from doing it for fun. No Dad, you have to take care of people. I know that much. Yes, she's awake. She gets up before every body else. Yes, you can speak to her.
I took the landline receiver. There could only be one person on the end of the line. Corliss did not like calling bucket of bolts. Maybe he was afraid of wire taps, but he was technophobic in the way that independents are and that was what my exhusband aspired to be, with moderate success. I thought of the mansion in the neighborhood off of East Ponce de Leon in Druid Hills and shuddered. Corliss' voice sounded far away and very unhappy. I cut to the chase. "Are all your children all right?" I asked.
"My oldest has turned into quite a moralist thanks to his meat stealing mother," Corliss replied.
"What about the rest of them?" I remembered the street procession and the eating tents in Dahlonega.
"Yes," Corliss dropped the bomb. Then he really dropped it. "One of Suzette's college friends lost a daughter."
"What do you mean?" I wasn't ready for this. No one ever is ready.
"She's gone. She went to the restroom and never came back."
"Have you been to the police?" I knew the drill and so too did Corliss, and Corliss' new wife, who was not so new's,, college friend.
"I think she has," Corliss softened but just a bit.
"Was this in Dahlonega?" I had no idea that Corliss et famille were traveling as part of a group.
"It happened around noon yesterday, and yes we're still in Dahlonega. We don't really think she was kidnapped."
"What can I do?" I asked though I all ready knew the answer. "I need a name, a date of birth, and then it's going to take me most of the morning."
Corliss gave me the information. I gave him the disclaimer that I could find the child but not rescue her. If this were last year or even a few months ago, I realized, I could say with confidence that the child would be back within two weeks. Now all those preditions had flown out the window. Worst of all, the child was a twelve year old girl with no prior takings for very few. The rich tended to keep their children off the grid.
"I've got an emergency," I announced to the kitchen of uninterested kids. "My exhusband's wife's college friend's daughter has been taken and hasn't told her family where she is. She's probably way inside the Interior," I added. "I need to find someone who can bring up her profile. It's probably been updated by now."
I pulled my thermos off the shelf and put up water for yerba matte. I wished for tri-matte but that beverage is illegal in Atlanta.
"Do you want me to come with you?" Moses asked me. I told him that he needed to stay behind and study. Just then Ahava and Ellen shambled into the kitchen along with Shlomo-Yitzakh who asked for black tea. I pointed to the kettle. I had to explain the crisis a third time. "There was a taking on the coast too," Ahava countered. "My roommate, Odem, just sent me a comm-mail about it. The university president and some of her father's colleagues had kids taken. Odem and Rcheille are settled. Her parents are very grateful. I guess there's no such thing as Reunion any more."
"The Priests don't play by the rules," Shlomo-Yitzakh observed.
"The rules were Company rules only," Moses explained.
"Are you going to do something, Imma?" Yitzi asked.
I had to do something. I had a long day ahead of me. I took Yitzi because he insisted on travelling and was really not much comfort, and I took Shlomo-Yitzakh because I did not trust leaving him in the neighborhood not now that this angry news was flowing back like an oil slick over high tide.
We walked a long way into the New Mall and rode the subway to the four corners. "This is where I work," I explained as I took the boys past the gate of the Wounded Crane Temple."Avodeh Zarah? asked Shlomo-Yitzakh under his breath. "Polytheism," I replied. "It's a caring order too, nurses, social workers. Some day I'll tell you the story of the Wounded Crane."
We came up the back way and went without formality into the office suite. I told LouAnn my tale of woe and was sent directly to Nadine. She listened and shook her bald head. She said Shlomo-Yitzakh was a lovely young man and got down to business. The location was in Interior Space that was closest to the outside in Chattenouga, Tennessee. Getting letters that far into the interior was dicey. Wounded Crane did not have a temple in that area. I hoped Corliss' new wife's college friend had fuel chits. I tried to imagine a trip to Tennessee and then the long walk I tried imagining giving all this information to Corliss and the friend of a not quite friend. I sighed. "My exhusband is desperate and frightened," I explained.
"Frightened people can do rash things," Nadine counseled.
"Especially when the Portal Priests act rashly," I responded.
"It has to be helped. Sometimes the sleepers need to be shaken from their slumber."
"You need to be careful, Antonia," Nadine counseled. "You're in a hostile area."
"You think they took children in Toco Hills?" I asked.
I was not sure what I would tell Corliss. I was not sure what I would do with my brood. I was able to get back in time for a late afternoon swim. It was a mixed swim which meant there were not a lot of religious mothers at the pool, but as I lay on my towel I listened to the gossip as well as Yitzi recalling his trip to the interior and the disappearance of JoBeth, Imma's exhusband's friend's little girl in Da-lon-egg-a.
"How does your little boy know about Dahlonega?" asked a plump woman in a brown, one piece, bathing suit.
"We were up ther eon Sunday getting my son back from visitation with his father," I answered. "We saw some of the festival. I work in the Interior when it is not Reunion and I could smell stick in the air."
"Oh shit," sighed brown bathing suit. "You know threee kids disappeared in this neighborhood over the weekend," Brown bathing suit spread the gossip.
I didn't but I had a feeling it could have happened. I wondered when it would become polite to greet such news with a perfunctory sigh or perhaps even a shrug.
"What are parents doing?" I asked. I would not have to do any of it. In a house full of kids on the system, the danger was over, but that was not everybody here, not by a long shot.
"Watching our kids like hawks."
"You need to avoid crowds and big events," I woman in a tan and white checkd one piece added.
"My neighbors brought their kids home from camp," said a man in burgundy bathing trunks. "You can't be too careful."
"Oh yes you can be too careful," I thought. "You can be too careful until your attention slips because we are after all only human and then, all the neighbors will blame you."
"Do you think a religious camp is safer?" asked an older woman in a bright green two piece.
I annswered: "It probably depends on security at the gate," I answered. "It also depends on trips off the grounds and into the woods." "And will it do more harm than good to keep older kids in prison," I thought. "Being taken, even in the new way, is probably better than months or years of imprisionment. One has to take the long view," but panic wwelled up from the concrete pool deck. I was glad to get home even though the weather was still searing hot.
"We need rain," sighed Akiba.
"That will make it harder to make boiled icing," I replied.
"You want another cake?"
"I may want armies of cakes."
Akiba snorted. "It's not natural all this heat," she tried to get through to me.
"You think the Priests are trying to make a statement with the weather?" I asked.
"They could," Akiba answered.
"It makes sense," Ellen backed her up.
When I thought about it Ellen was right. I glanced up at the pale grey clouds idling lazily in the high atmosphere waiting to be called into thunder heads to shake and drench the earth. "The Lord makes the hills of bashan dance and parnce like rams. Why dance ye hills. The Lord makes the hinds calve and strips the forest bare, and in his temple, everything says 'Glory.'" Yes, I remembered the twenty-ninth Psalm, the Earthquake Psalm. If you study our religion, it is easy to imitate it and at least know how to get through.
But this was also a neighborhood that knew how to cover for and defend neglectful parents, and how to disguise exhausted compassion with not enough chairs and how to create an outgroup when the only way for enough to go around was to exclude others. A few bangs of thunder and a dousing rainstorm would only go so far.
Outside the sky only grew darker. I checked my comm-mail in the study after giving Ellen time to take a break from the computer where she was enjoying a conversation Inupiat. There was an encrypted letter from Abishag Philippi. I decoded it and read it. She was back for three days before disappearing again. "Disappearing where?" I wondered. Her project was secret. Her project was in the remote Canadian Rockies. I knew whom the Creators considered their comparable under the priests, and that the Portal Priests did not accept them as equals. There are some questions one does not ask. There were six children who needed to spend nine more days in a hostile neighborhood and two or three children here for a good bit longer. And of course this neighborhood was in no way ready for the way out. It was not as simple as what the Portal or Wounded Crane Priests believed. Yes, it was doable, but possible and easy are two different things.
Outside the thunder crashed and the lights flickered. "Near miss," I thought, and with the next crash of thunder the power went out.